Mawmaw's dropped stomach smelled
of prewar damp wood and something sweet
like jug perfume or hyacinth on unwashed hair.
For years, she had claimed health
even with three-hundred pounds
on her five-foot frame,
even with the regimen of morning pills
followed by phlegm,
her small congested heart, short breath,
stiff legs, hot joints, metal knees.
Inside, her uterus was surrounded by cells
without plaster wall or prison bar.
Locked gate or thick chain.
Cells dividing fast like angry guards
into her cervix, bladder, bowels.
Her sharp after-sex pains. The shock
of dark-brown blood.
One doctor said, It's the slow kind of cancer.
Another, It's not because of her weight.
Another, It's a matter of months.
Another, Her heart will kill her anyhow.
My mother, brother, and I sit with her
and her new husband in the cluttered den.
The vertical blinds closed, the central air
turned high, the ceiling fan squeaking
like the swamp crickets outside.
Maw-maw sat in her green recliner
with the damp piss towel across the seat.
Her hands splattered with gold bracelets
and rings, large precious stones shining
with proof she was no longer poor.
They're gonna clean out my garden, she said,
touching her third husband's elderly thigh.
Uterus, ovaries, fallopian tubes. Gone.
We rename Maw-Maw's husband
of two years, Murray "The Weed-Wacker"
Joke, With a little push-push he'll knock
the tumor right out of you. Wack-wack-wack.
Like the TV commercial, blades cutting
Same Day Surgery
Patient Loading and Unloading Area
Hot Water Only
If Attendant Is Not Present,
Please Dial: 8790
Lilian Kim Live, Ft. Lauderdale
Irish Mark Migration,
Polio's Long Shadow
The Nasdaq Opens
Smoke Compartment Doors
Waiting Room Visitors Please
One at a Time
The Nurse Will Inform You
When You May Visit
Closed Captioning Upon Request
We waited for the surgeon to gently
widen Maw-maw's cervix with a series
of smooth rounded rods.
Waited for him to insert
the curet and scrape. Remove
cords of tan tissue.
We waited for the pathologist
to decide. The more
solid its mass, the more severe.
The diagnosis: poorly differentiated adenocarcinoma.
Already spread into cervix. Invaded
blood vessels and lymph nodes.
Like a breaking glass bottle.
Small shards everywhere.
Two years tops if her
doesn't give out first.
Small sun-dried muscle. Lopsided peach.