Definitions of an ordinary cancer

When my mom’s battle with cancer began,
it was supposed to be easy. The doctor used this word, said
it was ordinary cancer, as if that were an actual kind.
But I know (I know, I know, I know) and statistics know
that ordinary cancer eats people with flourish.

Each day after that, I was a bird too large
sitting on a branch that kept bending and bending—
a hawk, I’d say, or a falcon—and each day after that,
branches bent and bent,
and we’d watch sharp near the pressure point where
snapping would come into our lives—
just ordinary snapping.

There was the blood clot that was normal,
the bruising that sometimes happens,
lymph nodes seeming reasonable;
there was the common exhaustion from radiation,
the new ordinary lump on the underside,
and a removal of body parts, routine, I was told.

I imagined her ordinary coffin,
as if ordinary defined indecorous, not merely procedure:
a plain headstone, a normal clot of dirt.
What no one tells you when you feel your mother’s heartbeat slow
is how ordinary it is,
almost imperceptible—
how you try to rise from each limb a dove,
but motion dictates you must thrust down to get lift,
and the branch is already bending, bending, bending so.

The break is the same break that breaks us all,
but I’m told that after some time
even the broken spaces become ordinary.



Image Credits: Erik Söderström

Leah Angstman

Leah Angstman is a historian and transplanted Midwesterner, unsure of what feels like home anymore. She is the recent winner of the Loudoun Library Foundation Poetry Award and Nantucket Directory Poetry Award and was a placed finalist in the Cowles Poetry Book Prize, Able Muse Book Award, Bevel Summers Prize for Short Fiction, and Pen 2 Paper Writing Competition (in both Poetry and Fiction). She serves as Editor-in-Chief for Alternating Current Press and a reviewer for Publishers Weekly, and her work has appeared in Los Angeles Review of Books, The Rumpus, Tupelo Quarterly, Electric Literature, Slice Magazine, Shenandoah, and elsewhere.

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