Mors Praematura (a story)
. . . about how Uncle Joe’s cancer had advanced
& the news arrived in mama’s face
not with tears alone but her eyes erased
of light, replaced with the abject sadness
of a sister grieving. She stood in
the doorway to my bedroom
as I labored at the computer attempting
a poem, a fiction, an essay—
if I was writing anything at all,
whatever it was was still in
infancy . . . embryonic or something
like that. All I remember is I tried
hard to appropriate language
with apt metaphors when she arrived
with news of cancer, meaning
her brother was dying.
What I heard was a platitude,
a sound bite embedded in commercials
endorsed by medical associations to warn us.
I was angry. She said cancer
so I thought the astrological sign;
she said cancer so my mouth watered
for a steamed feast of Alaskan King Crab Legs
dipped in butter; she said cancer so my skin
shuddered imagining diseases
you can get by fucking
without a condom; she said cancer
where I envisioned the firmament—
meaning we would be attending church
in my bedroom, slugging our way
to the altar for grace, bartering for his life
as if we were his proxy,
knowing how weak he’d become,
his mouth barely able to take in
a sip of water to dissolve the cotton candy
spinning on the loom of his tongue.
In the doorway, mama
waited for me to reconcile his mortality.
I wanted to pretend nothing had changed:
dinner was still at eight,
the grandchildren had been bathed &
our favorite songs still played
on the stereo in the den. I wanted to
return to writing, figure how to go on
without staring at the cursor blinking
as if it, too, was curious as to what I could say
about the way mama stood there
poised with news greater than I could bear
when I felt the earth tilt off its axis.
for Joseph Leroy Guydon, Sr.
(in memoriam, 1966-2012)
Read more of Darius Stewart’s poetry.
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Photo by Evan/Flickr