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Cecil Morris

The Winter of Our Discontent Did Not Make It to Spring She did everything the doctors recommended—the chemo that blew her hair off, that made her sick and sleepy, that aged her while we watched, the radiation that scorched and tenderized her skin, and the surgery that revived her flagging hope and made her admire the fullness of her steadfast re-built breasts. And we, the parents she had outgrown two decades before, we went with her, encouraged her as we had when she was ours, a girl at soccer and basketball. She needed us once more, and we told her she’d be fine, she’d beat this cancer down. We bought her wigs, long and short, in natural shades of brown and blonde and incandescent purple that glinted in fluorescent light, a shag in bubblegum pink, a confection that screamed look. We brought her home, fed her magazines, pot-infused candies, took her to the lake on nights too hot to stay indoors. We embraced this second chance to be supportive parents. When summer finally spent itself and leaves began to fall, we kept waving our flag of hope, our promise that she’d get well. We did, as parents do, all the things we thought we should. Then, with winter a sheet of rainless clouds drifting overhead all day like a bad, old-time country song, a blues and twang, a he-stopped-loving-her-today kind of dirge, we got the news— her cancer had headed north, had leapt as nimbly as a cat across the blood-brain barrier and started its rampant division and multiplication in the narrow space of her meninges, a place we had not known existed to swaddle her precious brain. Her doctors gave us new words— meningeal carcinomatoses—and looked grave and spoke in voices soft as falling snow and whispered comfort care and days and left us then to finish being her parents.

Waiting for Our Daughter to Rise While our daughter floated in the morphine sea apparently past consciousness and somewhere far from our shore of sorrow and concern, I wondered if she knew that she was done, knew her body was sinking while her spirit rose, a white flag diaphanous and as present as breath on winter day. I could see its shape reluctant to disperse, some part of her fixed, a visible waiting, a hesitation, above her in the room with us, unready to surrender. I could see it start to fade and then she breathed, one more last respiration, one more refusal to call it quits and go wherever souls go when stoppage time runs out and they expire. And I thought farewell, farewell, each and every time all that long afternoon.

Taking Our Daughter to the Beach

On this June morning I remember the nurse's words:

even her small tumors cast out DNA

the way we slough our old skin cells, each a little packet

of our most intimate identity,

epithelials drifting behind us, an exhausted glitter,

swirling in our wake and wind.

This morning, walking our favorite northern beach,

I remember the nurse at our daughter's bedside,

her words coming back to me, her explaining the spread,

the metastasizing, the migrating disease,

and I imagine the jettisoned cells

as tiny bottles each packed with secret message,

a call for rescue or final declaration of love.

Thinking of our daughter three months late

and her nurse and those long last days

that went too fast, I walk this beach,

the tail end of waves lapping up over my bare feet

turning them red, dragging exfoliating sand across them,

sucking spent skin into the surf.

I pass five others wading

and imagine our DNA commingling

the twisted strands twisting together, knotting,

holding hands and waiting patiently

for more strands, for the whole of me

to dissolve, dispersing into this cold new sea—

not the primordial sea where God sprinkled

first life like a pinch of salt, not the sea

of antiquity wine dark and warm where Icarus tumbled—

for someone to find and reassemble,

re-build from our building blocks,

to make us all anew from the alphabet of loss.

Of course, the cold sea's salty water

will melt both cell and DNA

and ashes burnt and pulverized

carry nothing but carbon dust.


Cecil Morris retired after 37 years of teaching high school English, and now he tries writing himself what he spent so many years teaching others to understand and (maybe) enjoy. He has been trying to learn the names of all the birds that visit the yard he shares with his patient partner, the mother of their children. He has had a handful of poems published in Cobalt Review, The Ekphrastic Review, Evening Street Review, The Midwest Quarterly, Poem, and other literary magazines.


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