Sitting at the computer reading and drinking coffee this morning, my phone rang at 9:30.

Woman on the other end:  “Good morning. Is this a good time? ”

Me gut-punched, recognizing the caller ID:  “I guess.”

I knew why she was calling.

“We have the results of your biopsy from Monday.  Poorly differentiated carcinoma.**  Thoracic will be calling you to set up an appointment.”

Me shaking: “Thank you for calling.”

What an awful job this poor woman has.

I can’t breathe.

I hung up the phone, grabbed my keys and left the house.

Driving down a familiar street, I saw a woman playing Frisbee with her dog in their front yard. Joyous and free, running leaping into the air.  I am reminded of the Mary Oliver poem about the joy of dogs without leashes.

At yoga class, we did lots of open-up-the-chest-and-rib-spaces movements. I swear every time the instructor said,  “Breathe in, open up the lobes of the lungs,” my poorly differentiated carcinoma lit up like ET’s heartlight, eager, defiant, and ready to differentiate itself.  But I worried that by breathing so deeply was I providing nourishment so the little bastard could get bigger and stronger?

In the white space between the lines of this post is a storm.  Can you feel it?   Probably not.  It is huge and dark – a violent, roiling, churning monster waiting to take me under.   I am alone and frightened in the vast, deep water.   But I am an excellent swimmer.  I will ride out the waves and swim where I can, as long as I can, until I am too tired to go on.

I will pick up my grandson from school, we will have a snack of Newman’s Own Cookies and play ‘Mater and Lightning McQueen with his Cars play set.  I get to be ‘Mater.  I love being ‘Mater.

I will breathe. I promise.

** poorly differentiated carcinoma

Two Things

  • every single one of Mary Oliver’s poems
  • birthday cakes with white icing


in spring
in an open field
barefoot in the diamond dew of morning
we walk, our fingers locked
your little hand, mine bigger

silently, suddenly (what joan didion calls ‘the ordinary instant’)
a narrow stream of water appears between us
you on one side now
me on the other
bread and butter
our fingers locked
and warmed by the sun

we stop and laugh at the water
coming up now around our wiggly toes
and then we keep walking
you on one side, me on the other
bread and butter

the water deepens
the stream widens
pushing us apart so that
our fingers no longer touch
what should we do?
you say jump over on my side!

but somehow I know I cannot
still reaching out for your little hand
I say you go on
I’ll catch up when I can
and I’ll watch you
even when you can’t see me

I promise

The Moon and You


For you, Maizie…

What do you say, Percy?  I am thinking

of sitting out on the sand to watch

the moon rise.  It’s full tonight.

So we go.

and the moon rises, so beautiful it

makes me shudder, makes me think about

time and space, makes me take

measure of myself: one iota

pondering heaven.  Thus we sit, myself

thinking how grateful I am for the moon’s

perfect beauty and also, oh! how rich

it is to love the world.  Percy, meanwhile,

leans against me and gazes up into

my face.  As though, I were just as wonderful

as the perfect moon.

—  Mary Oliver, The Sweetness of Dogs:  Dog Songs



Rescue Me

Friday morning my phone rings at 7:30. It’s my neighbor. She’s on her way to work and sees a dog running down a nearby busy street. She knows how much I “love helping animals” and she knew “for sure” I’d “want to know about the dog so I could try to catch it.”

She can’t stop because she’s on her way to work.  Nevermind she’s the owner and can show up whenever she damn well pleases.

She can’t stop, but she’s SURE that I would want to get out there in the traffic at 7:30 a.m. in 40 degree weather because she knows how much I LOVE HELPING ANIMALS.

Oh my yes.  Let me tell you.

Let me tell you how much I love fishing a litter of abandoned kittens out from under a rat-infested shed in the middle of a Texas summer.  Or how much I love darting in and out of traffic trying to get to a terrified dog in the middle of the street before a car does.  Or how much I love sitting in a car on a cold night, away from home for hours trying to trap starving cats and kittens so they won’t freeze to death.   Or how much I love spending my own money for vet care.  Or how much I love getting up in the middle of the night to bottle feed a litter of kittens.  Or how much I love worrying about the animals I couldn’t help.

And especially — how much I love having my goddamn heart broken over and over because animal overpopulation and suffering caused by human irresponsibility and cruelty never ends.  Never.

None of the people I know who “love helping animals” do it because they love it.  Not one.  They hate it as much as I do. They do it because they know no one else will.

p.s. —  Please spay or neuter your pets — and other people’s, too, if you can get away with it.