When her body became a warzone,

I sat wobbly-kneed in Dr. Smith’s sterilized walls, pretending to color.

He had all types of schemes and weapons and missiles to launch

inside my mother’s body.


To fight the bad guys.


This is how we conceptualized it together;

Me, all stringy hair and loose teeth,

Her, fuzzy scalp and aching bones

I like to think this juvenile explanation helped her too.

That the wartorn cells and casualties of chemo

Came to mean more than just survival.


She fought the urge to become a prisoner inside her own body,

This will kill the rapidly dividing poisonous cells, but may kill some healthy ones too

inside her own mind,

You have six to nine months to live (have I taken this pill yet today?)

inside her own home,

Mommy doesn’t want to be sick anymore, sweetheart


When the time came, my mother flew no white flag.

She offered no truce, showed not an ounce of defeat.

Two years past the doctor’s expiration date,

she left with grace.

I refuse to accept that she “lost her battle.”

She simply won unconventionally.


She was taken after summer’s storm

Pulled, the blues of her eyes

She, her – it’s foreign to refer to mother

so informally now,




Questions to the waves of her grave like

“When did you know love?”

“The blue dress or the black one?”

“What’d you think of the war – all of them?

Did you march in Vietnam protests or roll your eyes?”

When did your bitten tongue turn light gold?


I recall the way in which she folded towels,

crease out in the closet,

so we could grab one readily, she explained,

for an impromptu trip to the lake or


how she splayed warm sheets over my giggling limbs,

freshly cleansed, still warm,

Like I thought her cheek would be

As I kissed her tomb





The atypical cells divided & attacked

No amount of pink ribbons

Or celebrity endorsements

Can call truce for that


Hours in white-walled holding cells,

holding our breath,

holding hands,

holding it together,

not even fooling ourselves


Cancer became a swear word

Whispered between relatives like the plague

Shushed into silence like it would stop spreading that way


It spread anyway.


Submission, remission, readmission

When hospital beds become familiar

Scans, biopsies, blood tests

When the nurse sneaks you extra pudding

“for being so patient”

When your blood’s blood is victim and all you can be is


Poetry by Kayla Blau

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