Breast Cancer Suite

Terri Kirby Erickson
Lewisville, North Carolina, United States (Winter 2011)

Poet’s statement: Since I became a published poet, it has been my privilege to spend a few hours volunteering at one of our local cancer centers, working with a very compassionate chaplain—one who understands the healing power of words.
She invited me first, to speak with a group of breast cancer patients whose strength and humor, courage and grace, will remain with me always. The stories they shared and the poems they wrote were excruciatingly honest and raw with feeling. I felt so honored to be there with them, to care and to listen.
Part of a poet’s job, I think, is to give voice to those who feel they cannot, or prefer not to, express their thoughts and emotions. Hearing or reading a piece of writing that seems to echo our own experiences makes us feel less alone in the world. It helps us remember that we are all “in this” together.

The following series of poems grew out of my attempt to recreate the experience of one woman among millions, with breast cancer. These poems are dedicated to my friends, Fran, Felicia, Joanne, Debra, and Rose, and to every person who has ever loved, lost, or been someone with cancer.

 

 

I. Morning

She walks home from the doctor’s office
down a tree-lined sidewalk, her face
dappled with light. Birds hold fast to branches,
their feet curled like the dainty

hands of old ladies clutching tea cups.
Children dash from one side of the street
to the other, and squirrels, tails
twitching, do the same. Women push

strollers or jog by her, foreheads glistening
with sweat—all going about their business
in the town where she grew up,
near the house where she has lived

for thirty years—as if nothing has changed,
as if the world has not fallen to its knees,
as if this lone woman they are passing,
is ordinary.

 

II. Noon

The hollow-eyed creature
in the mirror, her freezer full

of casseroles and fruit pies,
her kitchen sagging beneath

the weight of good intentions—
is someone she doesn’t know,

a woman with scars for breasts
and lines etched into her face

that weren’t there yesterday—
or was it the day before? She

can’t remember. She only
knows that time is a watered-

down soup—enough to fill her
bowl, but she is still hungry.

III. Night

Skin pale as the surface of the moon,
limbs thin as matchsticks,
she lies in bed,

saying to herself, silently—
that night is a vast, dark sea roiling
and crashing above everyone,

sick or well, and that whatever happens
to her own body,
whether she lives or dies, it will go

on doing that very thing—leaving stars
behind like shells on a beach—taking
them back, by morning.

 


TERRI KIRBY ERICKSON is the author of three books of poetry. Her newest collection, In the Palms of Angels, will be released by Press 53 in the spring of 2011. Her work has appeared in numerous literary journals, anthologies and other publications, including The Christian Science Monitor, JAMA, North Carolina Literary Review, Verse Daily and many others, and has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize and Best of the Net Award. She lives in Lewisville, North Carolina. For more information about her work, please visit her website at: http://terrikirbyerickson.wordpress.com.

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