If it weren’t for a running tally on my calendar, I’d lose track of the days since diagnosis. That’s where I am now – ready to be done marking time. And this morning I got the girls on their buses, walked two miles, drank a green smoothie, did some yoga, checked emails, and logged on to see the NaPoWriMo prompt. That’s National Poetry Writing Month, for those who are unfamiliar. I’ve never done it before, and I usually make fun of National Novel Writing Month every November (because, seriously, one month!? The novel I’m re-revising now has taken me something like three years). But the new, energetic post-chemo dynamo that is my current self wanted to tackle NaPoWriMo, despite the fact that I typically write prose. So I cheated a little and wrote a prose-poem, and cheated even more by using NaPoWriMo’s “get ready” prompt from yesterday. Yesterday, the prompt was to write an ekphrastic poem, or a poem about a work of art. If wall art in home decorating catalogues isn’t really art, then I cheated all around. Nevertheless, here’s the result:
Minding the IV I shift in my seat to see the home decorating catalogue my sister unfolds. She’s driven roughly 300 miles to sit beside me, chemo snaking through the loose plastic loop pinched between my fingers. It’s like talking to a drunk, I’ve warned her, and the mass-produced paintings on canvases in the catalogue drift one into the other like liquid beads. Blues and grays. I can do that, I tell her. I’d been an art student just long enough to learn to copy.
And after my last treatment, the toxins having done their work, sixteen weeks of squeezing the tumor down so small fingertips can no longer find it, I stand in my studio, a bead-board room in the back of the detached garage, stand by the drafting table that takes up half the space and holds three crates of vinyl records on its crossbar underneath, stand and paint the same squares of color from the catalogue. Blues and grays. I add only a touch of sunrise orange, a nod to George, it’s been a long cold lonely winter. Brush to canvas, bristles dragging, long strokes like drawn breath.
Some nights I’d curl around my little girl and teach her how to breathe deep. In, out. Ocean sounds. Can you feel the waves chasing after your toes in the sand? Can you hear them wiping the bad dreams away?
I paint the squares. I paint over the squares. I wipe color on and off again with a rag dipped into the mud-colored water of a plastic tumbler that reads in scratched, black print: Eskimo Joe’s – Stillwater, Oklahoma. I let the canvas dry. I remember why I’d changed my major. My copy is like a slurred version of the original, like me trying to tell a story while the chemo slips along the IV. But it’s the end, too. It’s the first morning I spend post chemo listening to the raking of the brush bristles while I hum “Here Comes the Sun.”
And here’s the copy of a copy itself (see what I did there? I just copied Trent Reznor):