My Poetry

Cancer

     for Dickie

If you’ve seen a zodiac,

you know.  Cancer is the crab.

From the Greek carcinos for crayfish.

Hippocrates, premier coiner,

used the term even then for ulcers and growths.

Later, the Romans translated carcinos to cancer.

What an odd juxtaposition of meanings,

those tiny creatures and tinier menaces.

 

I used to catch crayfish in a clear stream

that ran under a narrow, metal bridge.

My sister, a few years older, and me,

in our childhood shorts.  Jars in hand.  The trick

was to scoop quick and deep with the jar.

The water sploshed as the jar broke

the surface.  That method worked

for the first crayfish. I can’t remember

how we got the rest.  We must have rooted them out

by hand, moving their hiding places, the small rocks.

 

They were such scuttlers! Fast!

And they wiggled their tails in the bottom sand,

as though it were a blanket or living tissue

that would settle back over them.

We didn’t keep them.  We emptied our jars

in the stream.

 

I’d gather them now if I could,

I’d scoop every one.

 

"Cancer" appeared in

The Cancer Poetry Project Vol. 2, which won                                                  

Best Poetry Book of 2013, Midwest Book Awards

You Are Standing In—

the sky. It begins

where Earth

lets off, a reverse

image of every

gulch, valley,

rivulet and man hole.

 

Your knees bend

to its resistance.

Your lungs pull it

deep inside

to fill your very blood

with sky.

 

It is on the bottom of your

shoes, hugging your

calves and thighs,

affixed like       

gold dust on

an illuminated

manuscript.

 

Take a shower,      

it still coats you.

 

Hop a train

to Calgary, the sky

will be waiting

in all its width

and mundanity.

 

Duck into an alley,       

it ducks with you

like a persistent hit man.

 

And dust is

after all skin

sloughed,

yours and mine,

the Earth’s.

 

We tread on ourselves,

our pasts, daily,

breathe in and out,

 

 

fail to see the field.

 

Just as our lives

surround us before

we realize

we are living them,

the days passing

and passed,

the yet to come.

 

Cathy Barber

 

 Note: title/first sentence is from Diane Ackerman’s A Natural History of the Senses.

 "You Are Standing In" was published in SLAB.