Tag Archives: cancer

Leo

a photograph by Alazanto, Kevin Davis, our son

What Ethel and I remember the most about Leo is a day at the hospital in Poughkeepsie, New York when Kevin was struggling to even move. The nurses at the hospital moved him downstairs in a wheelchair, and Leo, a cat he’d rescued who had hid in his car’s engine on a cold day, was there. Leo curled up next to Kevin as if he knew how ill his young rescuer was, and Kevin’s whole demeanor lost some of its pallor and, for a brief moment in time, the world seemed brighter than it had just a few moments before.

Leo

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The Doctor

by Ethel Mortenson Davis

He was the head
of Oncology,
a great mountain of a man
who wore a beautiful suit.

He greeted the young man
who was dying and his parents.

When the young man’s friends
went above the doctor’s head
to try to get him admitted
to another hospital,
for they loved the young man,

the doctor never came back
to check on the dying man,
but sent his assistant—

would not acknowledge the parents
when they saw him in the hallways.

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Cancer

by Ethel Mortenson Davis

On an early walk,
a large rattlesnake
lay on the road
warming himself
from the freezing night.

His large head contains
flesh-dissolving venom.

With hearts pounding
we walk in an opposite
direction, in a large circle,
away from him.

A second snake
looms on the road.
We don’t know
what he will do.

We can’t step
away from him.

Instead we must
embrace him,
do the dance
with him,
while looking
into his yellow eyes.

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Healing Bear

a photograph and poem by Ethel Mortenson Davis

Mudjekeewis:

El Oso de Salud or “the healing bear” is the symbol of the UNM Cancer Center and a Native American totem of power, health and protection. The bear, by the sculptor Gene Tobey, is the animal most closely associated with mudjekeewis, the spirit keeper of the west and source of responsibility, teaching, leadership and healing. It represents the desire to serve New Mexicans whose lives have been touched by cancer with strength, courage, grace and great ability.

Healing Bear

I am the healing bear.

I will lick you
all over
from head to foot.
I will take
the bad smells out
of your fur.

I will bring you
up out of the labyrinth
and will heal you.

I will show you
the face of your child
so small you can
hold it in your hand.

I am the healing bear,
and I will heal you.

© 2010, I Sleep Between the Moons of New Mexico.

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Sonnet 41

by Thomas Davis

We kissed his forehead, yellow, cold, inert,
sobbed our goodbyes, left his body, drove
to Poet’s Walk above the Hudson, hurt
beyond expression, where, on hills, small groves
of ancient trees are interspersed with fields,
a place where, Kevin said, he liked to go.

And as cremation’s fires consumed, annealed
his spirit to our spirits, as the glow
of July’s sun warmed flesh too numb to feel,
we walked where he had walked and tried to find
our balance in a world turned sad, unreal—
our son was gone, his smile, his wondrous mind.

And as we walked the wings of butterflies,
black mourning cloaks, danced through the summer skies.

At the University of New Mexico Cancer Center in Albuquerque, where I am now being treated once a week, a healing bear greets patients as they enter the building. Marked with ancient symbols, shining black in the sun, Ethel and I stand before it every time we come to the Center. The major question in my mind at the moment, one that I cannot shake, is, why am I surviving my bout with bladder cancer while Kevin, only 28 years old, did not survive? I would have given him my life without a thought if he could still be present, thinking about butterflies that were such a constant, powerful symbol to him from the time he was a child to the day of his death when, as Ethel has written in a powerful poem not yet posted, a butterfly visited his hospital room so many stories up in the middle of the city. I understand there is no answer to such a question, and I am deeply grateful to have more years with Ethel, my children, and grandchildren, but both Ethel and I miss our son. This sonnet was written after our visit to Poet’s Walk Park on the Hudson River in New York. Ethel has also written about our experience there. After this moment we flew back home to New Mexico. Just over a year later we discovered my cancer. One of Ethel’s many photographs of the healing bear is below as a symbol of survival and strength in the face of devastating tribulation.

photograph by Ethel Mortenson Davis

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Sonnet 40

by Thomas Davis

The doctor, looking down at him, her voice
as soft as early springtime rains: “I hate
how cancer takes a person, steals their choice,
and makes inevitable their certain fate.”
She paused, a stranger. Then she shook her head.
“He was extraordinary. You can tell.”
She gently touched his clutched-tight hand, the bed…

“He asks the nurses how they are. The hell
he’s going through, he wants to know if they’re okay.”
She sighs and looks at Ethel, then at me.
“This ward is tough. Old cancer never plays,
but does his business, never lets us plea

for mercy.” Silence. “Fighting him is hard.
He leaves us memories, our lives in shards.”

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Sonnets 22 and 23

by Thomas Davis

22

At Newport Beach the sun was shining Spring.
Offshore, out in Lake Michigan, clouds brewed
in swelling rolls lit white by sun, a multitude
of giants in a day so still the wings
of seabirds hardly moved as, white, they swing
above the lake into the shore, the mood
created like perfection, interlude
between the storms our selves are apt to sing.

Our daughters swim against the waves and laugh.
Our son, absorbed, collects a pile of stones
and makes a wall on sand, an autograph
soon lost to water and the wave’s white foam.
Time freezes in our minds, but arrows past,
though we would make our times together last.

23

Time turns into a cruelty of hours.
The battle fought to find a snatch of hope,
our conversations as we tried to grope
with decades shrunk to days, and youthful powers
reduced to helplessness and empty hours,
our words of love as time, the misanthrope,
snatched from the two of us the skills we need to cope
with dread and loss and cancer’s awful power.

He doesn’t wake. He doesn’t speak. His breath
is ragged; coughing rattles in his chest.
His face is yellow, thin; it hints of death
to come–so suffering will end with rest.
And as we wait, time crawls where once it flew,
as mutable as good times we once knew.

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