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Cancer

Illustration by Kate Lacour

Glossology

Who looks in your mouth? Nobody. That cozy little cavern is designed for darkness and privacy. When the mouth is open, we glimpse occasional bits of action in what is technically called the vestibule, and are struck by the intimacy of what we have seen.

Illustration by Ryan Floyd Johnson

Hill of Hell

I had traveled up the Hudson Line at my friend’s invitation to deliver a lecture to his literature students at the college where he taught. There had been three people in attendance and one had fallen asleep halfway through. My friend had treated me to lunch before the talk and to a drink afterward, so that by the time we hit the train back into the city, where we both lived, we had sailed through the small talk and were ready for the blood and guts. 

After we opened the second bottle of wine, which he’d been keeping in his satchel, I told him about the worst thing that had happened to me in the last three years, as this was the period of time that had elapsed since we last saw each other. We sat at a table in the café car, the panoramic windows looking out on the vast sweep of the Hudson. At first, I was surprised that we could drink openly on the train, but my friend assured me that we could eat and drink whatever we wanted because the café car was closed on this route—and besides, he had been taking this train three days a week for a decade and he knew every conductor on it and could get away with anything. 

“It was around this time last year when everything came apart,” I said, turning my plastic cup on the table. 

Last September, I was pregnant. My husband had been the one wracked with longing for a child and I had allowed myself to be carried along by the tide of his enthusiasm, but once it was underway I felt like I had been conned into a heist for which, as the plans came into focus, I was woefully unprepared. You’re talking about robbing the Louvre and I’m just a common criminal! In those early weeks, I willed my body to show up with the getaway car and then four months later, after I had forgotten all about getaway cars, I was standing in Ikea, of all the undignified places, waving a spatula and lecturing my husband about how our dairy products were teeming with opiates, when my shorts filled with blood and I fainted. While I was unconscious, I had a dream that men in white coats were elbow-deep in me and then I awoke in a hospital bed to find a doctor elbow-deep in me, working on my body with the grave air of an executioner. The baby had ten fingers and ten toes, the only thing that many a stranger had told me I should care about. Eyelids as thin as organza. 


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Good for You

My wife and I, both in our late thirties, have a friend named Patricia who lives by herself in a very small apartment on Manhattan’s Upper East Side. Her taste is Japanese. Patricia is the mother of another good friend, a woman more or less our age [...]

Impossible Bottle. By Claudia Emerson. LSU, 2015. 65p. PB, $17.95.

Ecstatic Sorrow

Claudia Emerson, who died in December 2014, had come to be known as a poet capable of revealing startling discoveries inside quiet, quotidian circumstances. Her poems are set mostly in Southern rural and small-town scenes, moments in ordinary lives that would normally elude anyone else’s attention.

André Wee

Kitty Hawk

Until her father died, Sissy Willard’s parents took her and her two brothers out of school every year at the end of April to spend a week in Kitty Hawk, and every year they stayed in the same old beachfront high-rise, the Ocean Vista.

Love Song for the Mother of No Children

You followed Oleta Esteban every time you saw her. At the grocery store she was buying frozen peas, milk and bread, chicken broth, two bananas. Is this what women ate after they lost their children? Oleta looked as if she scavenged crumbs left for birds, seeds scattered. Brittle, she was, an old child, thin bones beneath yellow skin, suddenly, terribly visible.

You remembered her in a red dress and white sandals, Oleta before Dorrie and Elia died, arms bare, toenails painted. She dropped her sandals in the dark grass to dance with her children barefoot.

Morphine

Despite tests and retests—her mammogram dittoed across clinic walls like some sick Warhol print—Sarah had not understood her disease until she'd sketched the body it was quickly dismantling. Yet facets of dying remain welcome. There is the peculiar silence. No one can understand what she is going through. No one is fool enough to try.