Cathy Coley

Untangle

a morning glory vine wrapped around a sunflower stem with one pink bloom

a morning glory vine wrapped around a sunflower stem, with one pink bloom

Untangle

Andrew built a wooden frame for privacy.

I planted morning glory seeds and sunflower seeds

to fill the space between us and neighbors.

It’s past Midsomer. The sunflowers stand happy sentinels,

as delicate vines begin to wind and climb to strangle them, unaware.

I spent a good part of the morning unwinding the precious threads

from the sunflower stalks they chose

to entangle around instead of the posts of the frame.

I wound the long vines around the wood frame.

The morning glories are lovely and few,

and too delicate for human touch

as they furl in their open selves toward noon.

It’s too hot in the midday humid sun

for me to try to untangle, and I have so much more

Useful things to do.

The precious vines I unwind have me

metaphoring to my cancer,

and how the surgeon, oncologist, pathologist

are trying to untangle

any remaining invisible cells

from my lymph nodes.

The two that held cancer

beyond the hard tumor in my breast,

my surgeon calls sentinel nodes,

gatekeepers.

My eldest son laughs

and compares the nodes

to a videogame sacrifice.

The gatekeepers are sacrificed

so the rest of the troops

can prepare for a defensive attack.

I'm trying to untangle all the medical

and financial information in a system

that commodifies my life as a sacrifice,

if we can’t pay

for the surgeries to cut the tumor and nodes out;

for the chemotherapy to air raid bomb

any infiltrating cancer cells out;

for the radiation after chemo,

just in case they find a single holdout in a hidden bunker

after all that residual damage is done.

I try to untangle how my daughters’

education won’t be sacrificed during this pandemic.

She can’t attend school or ride a bus,

a sacrificial lamb to a slaughter.

Since the governor can’t decide yet,

I decided for my child, for myself,

and family health.

Options are available beyond a classroom

full of covid and a myriad other disease vectors.

I untangled the pandemic from my cancer,

and the chemotherapy

that will wipe out my immune system,

like America bombs the Middle East.

The same philosophy behind both:

If we wipe it all out, maybe we’ll

get the bad guys: ISIS, cancer.

But how do I untangle the idea of destroying

what is supposed to protect me

on the off-chance a few cancer cells

may still float around in

undetermined corners of my body?

But morning glories aren’t cancer.

And sunflowers aren’t protecting us

from anymore than maybe a curious glance

or a stray hello.

The delicate lacy vines are precious

and carry beauty that changes

with the sun to protect itself

as it clings on for dear life.

I protect them both, with care,

the bowing strong, tall sunflowers,

and their delicate and dangerous

neighbor morning glories.

First draft 7/14/20

updated: 2 months ago

Missiles at Dawn

Missiles at Dawn

Living close to a weapons testing area

not far from Camp Lejeune can be

interesting. Sometimes the air pops

and eventually I know it’s not a rowdy

neighbor by how the corn settles

into a practiced rhythm.

Sometimes it’s quite loud. The house

shakes, and I wonder if this might be it.

I think they’re testing land mines.

This morning, I learned the fft-whoosh

of missiles at dawn is nothing like the movies.

Now I will recognize it

before one hits our house.

Is this a poem?

I have broken up the lines.

Or shall I just sit and wonder

how soon this preparation is for?

updated: 10 months ago

Breakfast with Mary Oliver

It's been a while, again.

I've been thinking, and life happens.

Here's a poem.

Breakfast with Mary Oliver

The rain is a deluge for waking,
dark and heavy, a blanket beyond
my blankets.

I move slowly into the kitchen,
dreaming Mary Oliver’s voice,
“Pay attention, that’s what I can do.”
I pour coffee and glance to a covered pan
of last night’s sautéed mushrooms on the stove.
Oh, what a waste.

I won’t waste the cooking of them.
I won’t waste the bit of life left
in them to nourish me.
I crack into them a couple of golden yolk
eggs from my neighbor’s chickens.
So much more present, colorful, flavorful,
than what can be found on a supermarket shelf.

She sells them to me in her driveway.
While we gossip about neighbors,
mostly her in-laws, the chickens swirl,
size me up,
chuckle, gurgle their gossip about us.

As the eggs become more solid
and scramble,
petrichor rises from portabellas
takes me to a forest’s mossy floor.
Somewhere, I am a boar snuffling
at the ground for the deep loamy
flavor under the chaff of
wind and seasons, composting
to grow a delicious morsel.
Some ancient human followed a boar
And found umami mushrooms;
felt the deep roots of the earth's turning
season by season in her mouth, did not die
and became the earth.

I slide the cooked eggs and mushrooms
onto a blue plate.
Sip my coffee once more.
I eat and grow roots.

first draft, 1.24.2019

updated: 1 year ago