Wednesday, August 12, 2009

My Poem about Skin Cancer, for Your Summer Enjoyment

Last month, my poem, "Basal Cell Penelope" was published in Chiron Review. For your reading pleasure, I post it below.

I wrote it years ago when I got my first skin cancer, which rattled me more than I thought it would. After all, I have fair hair and skin, and spent my childhood out in the Alabama summer sunshine. All the photos of me from my childhood summers show a sunburned child. In my teenage years, I pursued a tan, which often resulted in blistering sunburns. I'm a goner. When I went to my first dermatologist, before he even examined my skin, he looked at me and said, "Why do you live here?"

Ah, those existential questions! From the dermatologist, no less. Anyway, onward to the poem, which was also inspired by all those British authors who were so inspired by Ulysses, which always made me ponder poor Penelope.

Basal Cell Penelope

A stay-put Penelope, my skin cancer harbors
no desire to wander, to conquer the new worlds
of my inner organs. She’ll leave that travel
to the other adventurers. Let them explore
the inner cavities, ride the bloodstream
to the far reaches of the known universe
of the human body.

She stays home, even though there might be better climates,
if only she would go. She remains on the craggy cliff
of my upper arm, subject to winds and harsh weather.
She could find a more tropical clime,
a lush landscape in the lining of my lungs,
the rich reproductive tissues.
But no use telling Penelope, loyal to a fault.

She weaves a strange tapestry on the top of my arm.
Weaving and unweaving, one evening a scab,
next morning, smooth skin. In this way, she weaves
herself space and time.

But in the end, I go to the doctor, who punishes
her for her lack of wanderlust.
Too easy to excise.
She should have headed inland long ago.

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