by Kayla Blau
When her body became a warzone,
I sat wobbly-kneed in Dr. Smith’s sterilized walls, pretending to color.
He had all types of schemes and weapons and missiles to launch
inside my mother’s body.
To fight the bad guys.
This is how we conceptualized it together;
Me, all stringy hair and loose teeth,
Her, fuzzy scalp and aching bones
I like to think this juvenile explanation helped her too.
That the wartorn cells and casualties of chemo
Came to mean more than just survival.
She fought the urge to become a prisoner inside her own body,
This will kill the rapidly dividing poisonous cells, but may kill some healthy ones too
inside her own mind,
You have six to nine months to live (have I taken this pill yet today?)
inside her own home,
Mommy doesn’t want to be sick anymore, sweetheart
When the time came, my mother flew no white flag.
She offered no truce, showed not an ounce of defeat.
Two years past the doctor’s expiration date,
she left with grace.
I refuse to accept that she “lost her battle.”
She simply won unconventionally.
She was taken after summer’s storm
Pulled, the blues of her eyes
She, her – it’s foreign to refer to mother
so informally now,
Questions to the waves of her grave like
“When did you know love?”
“The blue dress or the black one?”
“What’d you think of the war – all of them?
Did you march in Vietnam protests or roll your eyes?”
When did your bitten tongue turn light gold?
I recall the way in which she folded towels,
crease out in the closet,
so we could grab one readily, she explained,
for an impromptu trip to the lake or
how she splayed warm sheets over my giggling limbs,
freshly cleansed, still warm,
Like I thought her cheek would be
As I kissed her tomb
The atypical cells divided & attacked
No amount of pink ribbons
Or celebrity endorsements
Can call truce for that
Hours in white-walled holding cells,
holding our breath,
holding it together,
not even fooling ourselves
Cancer became a swear word
Whispered between relatives like the plague
Shushed into silence like it would stop spreading that way
It spread anyway.
Submission, remission, readmission
When hospital beds become familiar
Scans, biopsies, blood tests
When the nurse sneaks you extra pudding
“for being so patient”
When your blood’s blood is victim and all you can be is