Other Poems not in books

The Small Deaths

The doctor tells you in a voice not shaking,
You have lung cancer and it’s not fixable.
This is the most amazing thing
anyone has ever told us. We ask
a few questions. He answers,

Perhaps six months or less. He doesn’t
know about pain. I don’t say thank you
or even bye when we leave. We don’t stop
for the new fuse for the rain gauge,
we get into bed and cry.

We tell ourselves we’re lucky
it isn’t a sudden death, like if
a plane went down. You say,
If I wear my new suspenders, I want
one side of my jacket to be open

Afraid not many people
will come to the funeral,
you suggest door prizes.
I laugh like a teenager --
we’re not old enough for this.

Later, I lay my hand on your rib cage,
bargain with the fist-sized cancer,
try to soothe it by telling it
if it grows slowly, it can live longer,
but I know it’s too greedy to care.


I keep pruners by the door
to cut flowers for your grave,
in your car a straw hat, a folding chair.
I find the missing Books on Tape,
a French franc under the driver’s seat.

I wear your T-shirts to bed,
your shirts with my jeans.
I avoid the dining room,
eat dinner standing at the sink.

I give away your size 13 ski boots,
your left-handed scissors, cling
to the idea that you believe in me
as I learn to relight the pilot,
drive alone at night.

I’m confused when your presence
seems to leave and return at will,
want to learn to manage grief
as easily as I peel this pear.

© 2011 Stephanie Mendel. All rights reserved.