This is How You’re Dealing
Her aggression has
spread to the doctors
who now refuse to speak to her directly,
for fear of those heavy words she swings.
It’s been weeks since you found out,
but you haven’t called. Haven’t written.
Instead, you find an old photo on your computer,
and email it. You consider this a nice gesture,
then remember she doesn’t check her email.
Your mom, aunts, brother, really everyone says
how terrible she’s taking it, how unbearable
she’s become. You almost buy a plane ticket, but
tell yourself work is too much right now.
A visit will only make things worse because
attention is like chemo with your grandmother—
she hates it, needs it, craves it, festers in it.
She’s knotted now more than ever
in her abnormal cell growth
and conviction that no one loves her.
Guilt sinks its teeth into you anyway.
The longer you don’t call, the more
blame and fear and self-hate invades
your brain. You look for reasons,
recall the time she accused you of being
just like your father. Their feud is famous.
Everyone says it’s because they’re too alike,
so you know she meant it to be cruel.
When you learn cancer can be caused
by old cells refusing to die, it reminds you
of that ride to the airport, her last visit.
You fight back tears. Any strong woman
should be above such trivialities, she says.
You remember her thin lips crisscrossing
into a thousand things she will never tell you,
then the memory metastasizes
into the pastel pink lipstick she wore everyday,
to its lavish gold case, glittering and refracting light.
You tell yourself, Today I’ll call.
And the next day, and the next,
and the next, you make another reminder,
another promise, knowing this inaction
will be your biggest regret, but frozen
in this dance between what is and what
you refuse it to be. Really, aren’t people
a mass of cells, changing every day?
And isn’t there always more time?
Bryanna Licciardi has received her MFA in poetry from Emerson College and her EdS in Higher Ed. Administration from Middle Tennessee State University. Her debut chapbook SKIN SPLITTING is out now from Finishing Line Press (2017). She is a multi- Pushcart Prize nominee, and co-curates a local poetry reading series called Poetry in the Boro, founded by Murfreesboro Poet Laureate. Her work appears in journals such as Poetry Quarterly, BlazeVOX, Northern England Review, Peacock Journal, Adirondack Review, and Cleaver Magazine. Check out www.bryannalicciardi.com for more.
Edtior’s Notes: Illustration is face/palm silhouette (Amadscientist/Mark Miller) partitioned with text (Psychology Today)/colorized.