Hektoen International

A Journal of Medical Humanities

Dancing with Dex

Viola Moriarty
Bennington, Vermont, USA

Poet’s statement: Originally part of a multi-media exhibit at the Bennington Cancer Center, this poem was a reflection upon the effects of steroids during chemotherapy, where “Dex” refers to dexamethasone.


After chemotherapy

After chemo #2, 2007
Viola Moriarty
Oil on canvas
18” x 24”

Dancing with Dex
She takes the woman’s part, stepping back on her right
I try to lead, pushing her back into night
What color is cancer?
Asks this sexy salsa dancer,
Her long, lovely hands on my hefty hips
Suggestions and questions on her bright white lips,
Turquoise and teal, I think
And maybe periwinkle and pink
The dream was so real,
I can still feel
That I have the port, the sox, and the gowns
Tape over my eyes, doctors in multiple towns.
Who was there? she asked with a squeal,
Oh, yes, I repeated—it was so incredibly real—
You were there—and you were there—and you and you and you
Who, me? she demurred. Do you honestly believe that it could have been true?
She steps to the side, wanting to know
Sliding forward and backward ever so slow,
Am I a good witch or a bad witch
Or just a stubborn and silly, mucked up middle-aged bitch?
What happened in there, when the fog finally cleared?
Didn’t heaven want you? she persevered.
Are you kidding?
Cha cha cha ching.
I’m stuttering
And faltering
Without a sound mind and no sense of my body,
No, Heaven did not want me
Nor did hell
I wanted to yell
Not even that black hole filled with failure and fun,
Carousing and constantly, capriciously coming undone
Not even the fury and the flames would take
Such a distorted identity—half asleep/half awake

So, its back to black and white
Without too much fuss, certainly no fight
Thank G-d, Thank “I am that I am”
For all the drugs whose names end with “pam”
And for those that begin with an s and a z
I truly and humbly thank the Drug Company
The salsa surrenders to sappier rhythms
That belong to stupid labels that end in isms
Ba ba ba ba—expressionism, successionism—ba, ba ba ba
Bada bada bada bada—escapism, impressionism—zah zah zah zah,
Was that how cancer looked? she pointed and begged.
Like a saggy old breast that’s been recently egged?
I laughed loudly and pulled up my shirt
So she could see where it did and didn’t hurt
What’s the hole for? she wanted to know.
It’s my new hideout, where my feelings can go.
I thought it was a dream, she harshly restated
Something you imagined, subconscious, and hated.
It was—it was so many nights of turquoise and periwinkle, fuchsia and teal dreams
Where the fabric of uniforms regularly ripped out around the snaps and on seams
Where I got up at night, or so I thought
Turned on the light, never argued, never fought
Rocked in the rocker
Listened to Joe Cocker
He loves my new do, and so does my Jon
“Baby, oh, yes, you can leave your hat on, you can leave your hat on.”
I ripped up the colors on the couch and computer as prayers to dead saints
Glue sticked and cried, cutting linoleum and spilling watered down paints.
I won’t go back I scream, I won’t do it again—you can’t make me,
Now I’m numb and I’m dumb, I’m stress and panic free
There, there, my sweetness, she hums and she sways—Everything’s okay.
I’ll start another dance, and you start another day.
She twirls sultrily toward me, and whispers, shhhhhhhh, girlfriend,
we’re almost finished—finally,
Coming to the end.


VIOLA MORIARTY is a visual artist who resides and works in Bennington, Vermont, and is currently under treatment (including full brain radiation) for Stage IV metastatic breast cancer spread to the brain, central nervous system, and lymphatic systems. She was first diagnosed with the primary Stage II breast cancer in 2007. She spent many years in Colorado as an English as a Second Language and in North Adams, Massachusetts, after relocating from Denver to New England with her family. She left education for full-time painting, experimenting with all types of media, and has exhibited in Vermont, Massachusetts, Colorado, and New York. Visit her website at http://vimorpainter.wordpress.com/.


Highlighted in Frontispiece Winter 2012 – Volume 4, Issue 1

Winter 2012  |  Sections  |  Poetry

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