Back to Issue Forty-Three



Don’t suggest my tumor’s built by “stress”
or some rot hiding at the core.
I’m sure I could survive on spite.

Still, I’m superstitious, won’t curse the thing.
I speak to it as to an apparition: I see you.
I’m listening. Your work is done. You can go.

I sacrifice hair, a foot of colon, my uterus,
my appendix, my ovaries, my future children
already named. Take anything.

The ghost can’t care. Ghost of what?
Carcinogens. Mutation. Mad chance.

I wake up early, lying still,
listening harder than I have ever listened.
I am twenty-seven. I hear sunrise. Air conditioning.

Your breathing. Birds. Neighbor calling his dog.
The chemo pump administering its slow poison
into my chest. New leaves rioting in the light.


Past Tense


The day after I sign a new lease, I stop by to see the woman moving out. We meet while she sells her late husband’s things on the porch. His large worn slippers soft by the door. For a quarter, I take a blue clay saucer. When I move out, I’ll set it out again for sale. She walks me through each room, apologizes for her many precious things. She tells me about the progression of his cancer. The word means so little to me. I’m twenty-four, don’t know my own tumor is already growing. I’m trying to learn to speak in the past tense, she says. It takes so much practice. I follow her down to the backyard birdfeeders, listening. I promise to keep filling them after she’s gone. I will forget. She tells me where to buy the cheapest seeds, how to thwart the wily squirrels. We stand in a clearing. She points out her favorite pair of cardinals and tells me her names for them. Shows the tree where a woodpecker always returns. I won’t let them go hungry in the winter, she says. I don’t know how they live out here.


Emily Lawson is a 29-year-old poet and stage III colon cancer survivor. A PhD candidate in philosophy at the University of British Columbia, she is a former Poe/Faulkner Fellow in poetry at the University of Virginia, where she taught poetry and served as editor for Meridian. Her poems and lyric essays appear or are forthcoming in Sixth Finch, Indiana Review, Waxwing, THRUSH, Muzzle, DIAGRAM, BOAAT, and elsewhere. Her Pushcart-nominated fiction appears in BOOTH.

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