Courage at Twilight: Cancer and the Lost Poem

“My head hurts,” Dad moaned.  As well it should.  As well he might.  The spot on his head, frozen by the dermatologist, would not heal, and a biopsy found skin cancer.  Because I was out of town, our kindly neighbor, Darrell, loaded Dad in the Faithful Suburban—I had coached him in my detailed wheelchair protocol—and drove him and Mom to Dr. Hinckley’s office, where the surgeon excavated the cancerous spot, and found beneath it a more aggressive cancer that had reached its tentacles across Dad’s scalp.  The surgeon substantially lengthened the incision, followed and carefully removed each tendril, and stitched up Dad’s scalp.  I returned from my Chicago grandson’s exultant first birthday—complete with first steps, family photos, and pudgy little hands digging in his cream covered cake—to find Dad sitting in his recliner with a swollen face and puffy eyes, an enormous bandage covering his head, and pain.  The eight prescribed Tramadol pills did not last long, so ibuprofen and acetaminophen are trying to pick up the slack.  If not found and excised, that cancer would have killed him.  Cancer killed my classmate Kim just last month, and I sat in the funeral service remembering my twelve-year-old crush (she never knew), our five-couple senior prom group, our high school graduation, and how kind she had been to me after my divorce.  Her funeral was not the funeral I had expected to attend.  Kim visited Dad and me last summer: she had found among her documents a folder of my high school papers, which she had brought home from school for me, because I was out with knee surgery, and had carried with her across exactly forty years a green plastic folder with my senior world lit 2 class papers—ten As, four Bs, and one B minus—papers I am not likely to ever read—and a poem.  I have written exactly 531 poems in my life, and I had lost one of my very earliest poems, written in 1982 in my senior world lit 2 class, a poem that expressed newfound deep feelings about my purpose and my way-of-being in life—I had lost that poem, somehow, until I opened the green plastic folder, and there the poem lay, having hidden these forty years.  I messaged her my thrill and thanks and the story of my lost poem, and she was so happy.  As I read the poem she had saved for me for four decades, I realized it is a terrible poem, full of cliché and cheap rhyme and artificial meter and childish sentimentality.  But for all its superficiality, its core idea laid the first stone of my life’s foundation.  A few months later, Kim died.  Thank you, Kim, for being kind.

(Pictured above: Yours Truly holding my one-year-old grandson on the windy shore of Lake Michigan.)

5 thoughts on “Courage at Twilight: Cancer and the Lost Poem

  1. Donald Meyers

    That was a great gift from Kim. I look back at some of my photos from high school and some of them were not the best of the best of the best, but they show how far I’ve come. And I’m sure any high-school poem of yours is better than any poem I can write. (Yes, the irony of a writer who can’t write poetry.)

    Liked by 1 person


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