Rumpus Original Poetry: Two Poems by M. Soledad Caballero

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In the Poison Time There Is Love

They were a cancer, he said. Early summer, after Sunday lunch,
thick heat circling above the patio. There were pisco sours,
olives, cheese and bread. My younger cousins smoked in silence.
My aunt cleared the table. He sat full and sleepy, a wet drink
sweating in his hand. Eran un cáncer. The birds talked. Afternoon
breezes carried their song across the backyard. The flowers
in their clay pots were striking batons of color my aunt carved
out of soil and dirt on weekends. No tienen vergüenza. You do not
know that time, he said. Comunistas. Terroristas en las calles.
Todo se iba a la mierda. He sipped his cold drink, leaned back
against the chair, a long, thin scowl on his face. Eran un cáncer.
Y ese museo es una vergüenza.

My cancer, stage two with lymph node positive engagement.
The lump bloomed to five centimeters between mammograms.
That November my fingers felt thickness along the breast, a tight
tendon, long muscle strings. Something hiding. Strange, restless
cells. Spiculated. A mass with spokes, a star illuminating beneath
tissue and fat. It was a winter diagnosis. Christmas and cinnamon
scented. Ice and snow growing in the sky. I waited for biopsies,
PET scans, MRI’s, CT scans. Tests, blood, tests, blood. I drank
thin, alkaline milkshakes to light up the insides of my chest, liver,
lungs, spine. The fear: shadows on other organs, beyond breast,
beyond lymph nodes, spidering their way across my body.

A year and a half later, no evidence of disease. I spent two months
in Santiago. A celebration trip. In a healed body, I walked paths where
other bodies were broken, burned. Daughters, fathers went missing.
Swimming pools became water graves. Electricity lit the tender parts
of so many lovers. My second week there, I lied to my aunt about my plans.
Took the metro to the memory museum, wandered in aimless sadness.
Londres 38. Another lie. I sat on the second-floor staring at white-grey
faded walls. How did no one hear the screams? Villa Grimaldi a week
after that. I walked the park. In the back corner, a thick stone wall
of names. Black and white pictures cover rose garden, murals, sidewalks.
Handwritten signs line the grass. Dónde están? Dónde están? Dónde Están?
The question of every survivor.

Chemo kills cells flowering inside. Other cells die too. Hair falls
out. Skin grows red with rashes. Forearms and cheeks blister. Mouth
sores sprout. Bones pulse, ache with poison. Counts drop. The liver
rages against the fruit punch colored cocktails. Days, weeks, months
lost to emptiness and pain. Still, in the poison time there is love.
I was loved. Skin, hands, heart. Beloved. In the chemo room my hands
were warmed, my legs covered with soft cotton blankets. In the cancer
room I was fed. There were no hoods. There were no dank rooms
with secrets and darkness to beat out confessions. In the cancer
room, there was no wondering about dark.

In those years before, those years of silence, whole worlds fell
through the sky on Wednesday death flights. Now, the disappeared
still haunt rivers, deserts, oceans. Linger mashed to bits inside mute,
unmarked mounds, graves where blood seeped slowly out of men,
women, children. What more can be charred. What more can be
consumed. Eran un cancer, he growled. I know cancer. Every mouth
sore, every rash, every fever, every needle, every night sweat,
every moment of blood and pain. Everywhere, there is love.

 

What You are Doing Is Living

It is deep growing. Your body the culprit. It spreads.
Not like water or the sun across a sharp blue sky.

It is more the mush of crabs after the tide has come and gone,
leaving its ravages on the beach to ache against the heat

drying up the wet bodies into pulp. Too much life. That is
what the doctor says. Many routes of muscles, blood

to dance with, invade. So many ways to make mountains
of death. There are marks. Afterthoughts. Stretch of color.

Strangeness. Messages to find if you are paying attention.
Not that you usually do. The symbols are hard to read.

Crawl around silent. You have no time for the bombs stuck
inside the guts of things. Your bones. Your heart. Your liver.

Why look for the marrow. So much to look for in living.
Or so you thought. You really cannot be prepared.

The phone calls, the tests, the blood you watch creep out
into glass vials. There are so many of these moments

you forget what you are doing is living.


M. Soledad Caballero is Professor of English at Allegheny College Her scholarly work focuses on British Romanticism, travel writing, post-colonial literatures, WGSS, and interdisciplinarity. She is a 2017 CantoMundo fellow, has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize, has been a finalist for the Missouri Review's Jeffry E. Smith poetry prize, the Mississippi Review's annual editor's prize and a finalist for the Lucille Medwick Memorial Award sponsored by the Poetry Society of America among others. Her work has appeared in the Missouri Review, the Mississippi Review, the Iron Horse Literary Review, Memorius, the Crab Orchard Review, Anomaly, and other venues. More from this author →