Early Treatment Could Save Your Life

 in Sidewalks, Issue #18, Spring/Summer 2000

outhouseI found the article in the outhouse,
the summer I was twelve.
The crusted building far from the house,
where the graveyard now lies.
Wood slab with a hole in the center,
creaky floor where a garden snake
surprised me at dusk.
Redbook Magazine, pages
glommed together like old pasta
from endless leaky days.

“Early Warning Signs of Cancer:
A lump in your breast.
See a doctor immediately.”
My breasts were new then,
white flour pancakes rising
to a bubble off my chest
and full of tender lumps.
So when Jimmy asked me
to go rollerskating, I knew
I had better do it. I’d be dead
the summer after for sure.

That was the same summer
the Second Coming almost
killed me. We all stood in a line
–mom, dad, brothers, sisters, me–
gaping at the August sky,
shafts of colored light
lurching in the northern half.
Mom in ecstasy. The lights
were trees crashing in a wind
storm, and the world
was about to end.

I’ve built my own outhouse now,
a shingled building not too far
from the cabin, a wood slab
with a hole in the center, the
New Yorker to keep us company.
and when I lie in the meadow
and the northern lights spill down the sky,
I close my eyes and repeat to myself,
I do not have cancer
It is not the Second Coming.