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SURVIVORHOOD

Listening to the sunlight
We can hear the soft quick pulse of flowers
Reminding us
(And life amidst whiteness needs reminders)
That the blood of daffodils is liquid.
Flowers by their nature
Must fear the scissors.
There is no helping it.

Sitting in my hospital bed
I can hear the clocks in scalpels
Hissing, steaming,
Itching for incision.
Natural bullyworks:
Clocks.
Time is the great vivisector,
Actual, potential, ongoing:
An unavoidable
Crunch-clouter.
But I will outlast at least this hourglass.
Fingers crossed.

It is no use yearning
To be illicitly immortal.
The heart is keyed to terminate
And slowing the heartbeat
Will not extend the pulse.
Still,
The hour has fragrance,
The week has taste,
And beyond the lean corroded catwalk,
Beyond the dry hinge of the future,
The smiles of more partitions may await.

Signing no consent form,
I was crushed from the womb,
Head monstrous, swollen,
Born with pain amidst pain,
Welcomed by tears.
Birth, you may say, was an error.
But I do not repent, and will not.
I regret nothing.
It is a victory that
Out of the sludge of possibility,
My lobster crawled at least this far.
I am not vanquished yet.
Limits are not defeat.

In the city of needles
There is darkness and light.
I am a process of countdowns,
Explicitly fatal.
Biology is destiny,
Forced and predicted:
A gel of molecules upon a bony frame
Designed to diveboard,
Designed for dissolution.
The endpoint
A bleeding sponge
Racked dry.

The angel's kiss that breathed me into life
Was freighted with my funeral.
But even so
There is sunlight sufficient
This day, week, month, year
For the construction of a life:
Sustainable.


Author's comment on SURVIVORHOOD

This poem is a product of the early months of 2005, during which I have been undergoing treatment for cancer. Survival is the goal and, writing this in the first half of 2005, it's what I expect. But, despite being optimistic about my chances of staying alive, I don't quite know exactly what kind of afterlife I will experience.

After the entire course of treatment has been completed, there will be long term unknowns in play for years to come, particularly in the aftermath of radiation therapy, which can inflict brain damage which may only become apparent somewhere down the track, perhaps ten to fifteen years in the future. And, given that my pituitary gland will have been thoroughly irradiated by the time treatment is done, I'm told that my endocrine function should be periodically evaluated for the rest of my life.

The flimsy illusion of immortality is gone forever. I don't know how long I'm destined to live but I do know that I'll be living more firmly in the present tense. Do it in my old age? Better to do it now.


This poem SURVIVORHOOD was first published together with the accompanying notes when posted online by Hugh Cook on 2005 May 21 Saturday. Copyright © 2005 Hugh Cook.

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