Why Moon Jellyfish Won’t Speak of Cancer
I suppose I should start more slowly,
work up to it, draw you in,
tell you a smart story
about a wolf limping down a country lane
and how the animal is chained to a gray bearded beggar
who is toothless but properly kind
and how they’re suddenly overtaken by a wind
it blows them both clear across the ocean
where they are trapped forever on an island you never dreamed of
but fear might actually exist.
But that won’t do,
it won’t tell you how the words
“cancer” and “I have” take on a life all their own.
This tale won’t take you to that elsewhere place
where time creates a silky pocket
and shoe-horns you inside its pouch
or how you’ll press fingertips to the wall
of that translucent membrane
which divides the just-you from the just-world.
Perhaps if I mouth the words
“we are not alone”
to the trembling moon jellies glowing in the dark,
floating to the surface of an eternal sea garden,
their luminescent hearts would sing out to me
there is language beyond language—
would the sting shock you?
would you believe me then?
if I said I am always afraid now
of beginning this kind of story.
Absence in Five Parts
After a week of radiation, I’m a goddess.
I’m cleaning closets and cabinets, decluttering my life,
kicking the habit of holding onto useless things.
I am creating a universe of perfect order.
So into the trash I toss
“Owl Drink to That” and “Sip Me Baby One More Time,”
wine glasses bought by a younger self.
Make room for the new, my mother always said,
throw out what doesn’t belong.
Now I’m cramming mismatched socks and crusty flowers
into the mouths of plastic sacks
like baby birds demanding to be fed.
She’d be proud I haven’t flinched
while organizing my life into piles of yes and no.
So picture books from the Uffizi, a poster of the first Star Wars movie,
an “I Heart You” stuffed bear I once held, gently,
against my mutilated breast—each and all
get pitched into the box marked Savers Thrift.
I take a cleansing breath.
I’ve done good work tonight.
But I’m wondering what can’t be reused with a little more care?
Like the cashmere sweater with tiny moth holes,
the one I mended with invisible thread,
the one she thought I’d never own.
Then suddenly, and without warning,
there’s a tenderness underneath my ribs;
Pulling up my shirt, I look at blotches on my skin and—
though I know I’m lucky to be alive—right now it seems
my soul is pushing through my chest, and
it will leave behind nothing
but these broken blood rosettes.
In My Brother’s Recovery Room
Years ago you watched every Superman show,
instructing me on the particulars:
how the Man of Steel can press coal into diamonds;
that only green Kryptonite will bring him to his knees.
But when you told me your hero can split himself in half,
occupy two places at once, I became the little sister of unbelief.
You fooled me so many times, my brother, with
Santa Claus eats little girls and
the Devil lives in the dark space underneath the bed—
I never knew which of them was true.
It’s late now in your small hospital room.
You’re floating between this world and the next.
The doctors broke you open,
cracking your rib cage, pulling away the flesh,
exposing heart and lungs.
Tonight it’s you, Nick, with the “S” on your chest,
a careening line of stitches, cat gut and dried blood;
black circles under each eye,
like the dark face of the moon, forbidden places
no one wants to go. And suddenly I’m remembering
the day a nail went through my foot
and you carried me three blocks home.
Even superheroes get afraid, you whispered
as I sobbed into your neck. Now
between sips of water, you see angels—
streaks of sapphire blue, vermillion, gold,
and one who gives a message
without words in the landscape of pure white.
Now I know all of it is true.
Time breaks itself in two. Love leaves in us a deep, sweet scar.
You tell me write this poem.
I will, Nick, I will
just this once and ever after, every time always for you.
Lois Roma-Deeley’s fourth poetry collection, The Short List of Certainties, won the Jacopone da Todi Book Prize (2017). Her previous collections are Rules of Hunger (2004), northSight (2006), and High Notes (2010), a Paterson Poetry Prize Finalist. Her work is featured in—or forthcoming from—numerous anthologies and journals, including Odes and Elegies, Feminine Rising: Voices of Power & Invisibility, Slipstream, Post Road, Bosque, Zone 3, Spillway, Artemis, and Glass (poets resist). “Why Moon Jellyfish Won’t Speak of Cancer” was a contest finalist in New Millennium Writing Anthology, “Be Here Pow” issue, vol. 28 (2019). “Absence in Five Parts” first appeared in Gyroscope Review (2019). “In My Brother’s Recovery Room” first appeared in Italian Americana (2019).