A Side of Red Tears

As my son sleeps

I slip out to the waiting room, settle

into a vinyl chair and try to ignore

the home-improvement show playing

to no one.

In my lap is the flecked, photocopied packet

that is the plan of Eli’s treatment.

I feel I must educate myself about the five drugs,

with their unpronounceable names,

that will soon be careening

through my son’s veins.


The side effects are divided

into three categories:

Likely, Less Likely, and Rare

but Serious.

Along with the usual suspects

of nausea, vomiting and hair loss

in the Likely category are

red urine, sweat, tears and saliva.

I try to picture my son with

red tears

coursing down his cheeks.

It sounds like a horror

movie. I guess I’m glad they warned me.

I’m also grateful that

dark discoloration of the hands and feet and loss of nails

is on the Less Likely list,

along with seizures

and gonadal dysfunction.


On to Rare but Serious,

where the real fun begins.

Here I find a preponderance of the term


which includes such outcomes

as lung damage, cardiac toxicity,

kidney failure and coma.

But they saved the best

for last:

“A new cancer or leukemia

resulting from this treatment.”

So all the misery to come,

even if successful,

could ultimately beget




I put the paper down

with an unsteady hand,

and stare at the cheery

face on the screen

extolling the virtues of hickory cabinets.

I realize that I have made it through

only the first of the five

pages of side effects.

But this, I decide, will do

for now.


The Wrong Place

“I don’t think we’re in the right place,”

my son said,

looking up at the sign above the desk.

“What’s oncology?” he asked.

It was my turn to look up at Eli,

(my tall manboy with the baby face),

into those wondering hazel eyes.

My tongue curled around the word,

reluctant to release its awful power.

Big breath.

“It means cancer,” I said.

My husband came in from the parking lot

and we three trooped down a hall,

into a small room,

without enough space to breathe,

sat in hard plastic chairs,

and heard from an unsmiling doctor,

aggressive, unusual,

large tumor, sarcoma,

blood in the belly,

more detailed pathology,

bone marrow biopsy,

bone scan, body scan,

port-o-cath, clinical trials,

chemotherapy, radiation,

nausea, vomiting, losing hair,

treatment before Christmas,

no more school this year.

“No school!” Eli exclaimed,

as if that were the worst of the news.

But perhaps it was the only bit he could grasp

in the soup of this surreal conversation.

We sat and stared,

dry-eyed and numb,

nodded, signed, took appointment cards into helpless hands,

and slowly rose.

Our legs somehow carried us

from the small room,

back down the hall

and out of that right and wrong place

into the gray afternoon.

Spring poem

As I mix Sadie’s bottle
to bring an end to this June day,
that wanted to rain but didn’t,
the day to which she cannot bear to bid farewell,
she and Daddy head out the back door—slap!
to see if the swing will soothe her.
Then down skips Eli, preparing for bed,
who must kiss his sister good night.
This boy who ruled our world for seven years
with no desire to share his throne,
who dreaded the arrival of a small competitor.
“Leggo my Lego!” would be his constant refrain,
and, “Why couldn’t it be a brother, at least?”
But as soon as she came off the plane,
he hugged her and would not let go,
despite her cries.
And I saw that,
just as a first child makes you love your spouse more
for the father he has become,
so this experience is made richer by sharing it
with a new big brother,
who now seeks to delay bed
by hopping on a swing,
and with his body (suddenly so long and lean)
showing his timid companion how it’s done.
Laughing, he looks back at her
in her cocoon
to see if she laughs, too.
though pajamas await and darkness falls,
I cannot bring myself
to call them in.