Poem: Lung Cancer
Dominique Larntz * January 27-29, 2012 * “Love Letters to My Body”
No one paid attention when I was getting dressed
so I put on my tap shoes and smoothed my finger
along the top convex toe after I laced them up
with a little girl’s satisfaction.
In the California desert hospital they
clack-tapped for each step I took
but my grandparents didn’t look once
at the shoes that were so shiny
you could hardly believe they were black.
Despite the widening volume
made by each of my footsteps
along the fluorescent-finished tile path,
the hallways and turns ended
in my great-grandmother’s hospital room,
as cramped and dark as a camera.
Lung cancer was somehow a conversation
my memory stumbled into focus.
Suddenly carpeted in my own invisibility
I had my first portrait of death, too warm,
and full of unopened windows
and plastic tubes I felt I should ignore
as if they were not there–
a stopping point I had not expected at all–
and dense panic in the breath of
my family’s unspoken grief.
An unmeasurable time later we left, and I pretended
this never happened. I did not ask
the thousand million questions a curious child
must have had after such a visit,
perhaps because a kind child
does not want to intrude upon growling adults.
I still don’t know if I felt unsafe
or if I did not know how to ask.
Perhaps there is a time for questions
and a time for toe taps–
and our best efforts to act just right
play very little part, despite
how we choose our shoes.
Now I can feel free to visit with these
serious pictures. The echo of spirited footfalls
linger in my memory sometimes
when I am as quiet and gentle
as a hibernating bear.
I can recall my eight year old girl’s
confusion at unexplained experiences,
and realize it would have been nice
to enjoy an adult narrator at the time.
Now, in middle age, I can project
what it might feel like to take a grandchild with you
on one of the last visits you will make
to your parent in the hospital.
What possible words could you tell a child
about the sacred bond between generations?
There are these inevitables–death and
hospitals and vulnerabilities–
that may shock and dislodge
a dancing, exuberant child
but they will not interrupt our steadier steps later,
when we place our toe gently and then our heel firmly
through the same age as our grandparents once walked.