Hektoen International

A Journal of Medical Humanities

Metastatic sarcoma

Tulsi Patel
Chicago, Illinois, United States


His big regret was never building his son a trampoline,
now locked away in the shed like some treasure chest he can’t open.
Eyes welling up, he says to me proudly, resignedly
“16 tumors”
before he coughs up a river of rotten red roses.

Painting of a small bridge and landscape with mountains
A Foot Bridge, North Wales. Painting by Richard Sebastian Bond, 1830-1840. Photo by Birmingham Museums Trust on Unsplash.

On his chest I press my stethoscope down, softly
he worries I might dislodge the malignancy
shipping it many cellular miles away in the body
seeding another growth and generating a new forest overnight.
What am I listening for—the sound of a fickle little cell
asserting its bravery and venturing away?
I’m reminded of my mother’s mint plants in the backyard
from one corner one day, to one month covering corner to corner—
like dandelions—colonizing and outpacing the soil
the slightest breeze mailing the seeds to a distanced zip code

His 9 year old son with autism, scared of the swings before slowly outgrowing the fear
in celebration he wanted to construct a trampoline
now an elusive wish in the crisp fall air.
Who knew regret, despair, could look like
brown samaras helicoptering down from trees
while his son could jump on the trampoline,
grinning with zigzagged teeth exuding joy
anti-gravity for a millisecond, springing down up down up down up
to a metronome marking the passing seconds
reminding him even the humdrum is a gift.
Who knew regret, despair, could feel like
imagined future halcyon days, conjured with impossible hypotheticals
as he could watch the life in his son blossom,
deep breathing his pain away while feeling it to his heart, tissue, and bone

The chlorophyll vanishes in the autumn along with areas of his body
his left chest a valley,
hollow from resected tumors
abutting the right side with tumors stacking, a mountain—
one of O’Keefe’s, contour and color and depth and all
with ribs removed permanently not recklessly, skin stolen for grafts, scarring not subtly
lifesaving, beautiful, and refiguring, a Cubist patchwork worthy of Picasso’s attention
and who knew regret, despair, could feel like these moments too?

Although he feels like dandelion or mint or belladonna or hemlock,
his son is his coveted, abiding
bluebell, his aster, his begonia at first bloom—
not etiolated or shriveled, but richly fertilized with memories,
even as they are
flowers struggling yet flourishing
beneath the shadows of the trampoline




TULSI PATEL is a medical student in the MD/MPH program at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine. Patel graduated from Columbia University with a BA in Neuroscience & Behavior in 2019.


Winter 2022  |  Sections  |  Poetry

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