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Cancer Is Not Cosmic Justice

Honorable Mention — 2016 Poetry Contest

Cancer is not a ringing bell,
a queen of spades. Cancer is not
your mother’s hand-me-down, strung like
pearls along the lymph nodes,
smoky quartz clustered in the caving lung,
opals singing their blues in the neurons,
a solitaire promise kept by the breast,
a little story of family bitterness
tucked away in a velvet nook.
Cancer is not what you get.

That guy there: he doesn’t have it.
Look at how he lives on the chemical
yellow fats of the land and leaves to the lean
the steeplejack’s providence.
He may yet die without it. Still, it seems

cancer is everywhere now.
I feel it coming for me, a rattling
under the eaves, a sudden mood gathering
in the west, in its throat a new sorrow.
It might level my hometown
or veer south for the neighbor’s
or winter. Nothing I do will force it
to decide—eat my chard, act with integrity,
chuck it all and sleep on a Turkish beach.

Cancer is not cosmic justice, it is a hawk’s
long night in my yard. It is the sticky bits
of grouse left there this morning,
the torn stomach spilling whole berries.
They glow like tourmalines.

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Cynthia Belmont is a professor of English at Northland College, an environmental liberal arts college in northern Wisconsin. Her poems have appeared in a variety of journals, including Poetry, The Cream City Review, Iris, and Eclipse. She lives in Ashland, Wisconsin.

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