THE WRITING GROUP
Too many cars in the parking lot of the cancer building.
So many. Not all belong to patients, I am assured by the soft-voiced Coordinator. Some are staff.
some survivors here for the group, some survivors of loved ones’ cancers.
They are all patients, a murmuration of starlings.
Last week, planning, I believed for a moment I’d never known cancer,
forgot my father, my mother-in-law, several friends gone, several here (more tentatively and fiercely than before), the two chemo sessions I’ve sat with—reading poems aloud once,
once watching my father believe he might survive.
The clock ticks like a drunk as they write, scratching its cliché on the room’s air.
They write as if they have learned to ignore the clock and its drunken scratching, as though words were bullets they could grab out of the frightening air.
Their pens slice across the paper, performing surgery, stitching wounds with the same stroke.
Their pens drown in unfilled white, some raft the whitewaters of memory.
Their pens choke memory, feed it, swallow it, are drunk on it. Some will never be memory.
For some who write
memory is a stone in their shoe,
for some a stone in the pocket,
for some a stone in the heart,
for some a stone in a clearcold stream,
for some ballast stone, capstone, oyster grit, soup-stone, lodestone,
altar stone, headstone, scree.
What can you heal with words stitching themselves across a page?
Four miles, you say.
I’d content myself with “for miles” if
I didn’t need to think about how far
I’ve made my body come.
We’ve walked a good long way on firm sand.
It takes our footprints only lightly.
As usual, I stop along the way,
watch the water glint and slide from
little springs high tide covers--
at low, they go to work,
carving out canyons, estuaries, and rapids,
so cold I feel them sliding down my throat.
Two miles along, I take the hand you offer
and let you pull me out into the waves
where all the lovely salt can buoy us up a bit
before we push back out and walk again,
keeping our own oldish bodies carefully afloat on land.
Devon Miller-Duggan has published poems in Rattle, Shenandoah, Margie, Christianity and Literature, Gargoyle. She teaches Creative Writing at the University of Delaware. Her books include Pinning the Bird to the Wall (Tres Chicas Books, 2008), Neither Prayer, Nor Bird (Finishing Line Press, 2013), Alphabet Year, (Wipf & Stock, 2017).