Andrea Lawler: How Life Works
Image: Unsplash, downloaded (https://unsplash.com/photos/myiSwcauylc) 12.06.2022.
The Addict Finds out Her Father has Cancer via Phone Call
I was wearing my father’s sweater the day
he told me he had cancer–a midnight blue
crewneck with a graphic of a mallard duck flying
away on its front. How I longed to be
that green-headed duck. How I can still hear
the words tissue, cells, aggressive, echoing through
the phone. I googled the life expectancy of someone
with stage-four cancer. Repeated Sar-com-a
like it could somehow change the diagnosis.
For days there was a lump in my throat after finding
out he had also found one in his upper thigh.
I don’t remember what I was doing before
that phone call. I don’t remember how I answered
or how I said goodbye–if I even did at all. What
I do remember is this: the sound of my mother’s voice,
sad and uncertain. How I could imagine my father
receiving the news, alone, in the doctor’s office.
How scared he must have felt. How, by the end
of that phone call, I had relapsed–pills in one
hand–phone, still in the other.
A Conversation with my Therapist,
Whose Office is on the 9 th Floor
Once, when I was a child, my family dog
picked up a kitten in its mouth, punctured
a hole in its neck and it choked on its own blood.
I think I cried for weeks. I think I tried to pry
the dog’s jaws open. I think I came running
into the kitchen, limp corpse in both hands,
to find my mother, doing the dishes,
telling me that this is how life works:
We are kittens in our own dog’s mouth.
I answer questions about my early childhood,
my teenage years, my relationship with my parents,
the success of my siblings. The way in which I think
or don’t think about my own body. Patterns
of eating, sleeping, how much sex I have had
and with whom. Drugs I have taken willingly.
Outside her office window, a tree branch sways
violently in the wind. A robin’s egg has fallen
from its nest, life spilling out onto the street.
The Sky is Crying, The Sky is Crying
(and so am I)
The sky purpled into a bruised
cheek, clouds swollen like a crying
eye–leaking over the windows. My mother’s
work shirts flapping on the clothesline
as the wind begins to holler. Trees shiver
like my body the first time I got into trouble–
my father’s belt a thunderbolt touching
skin–my soft earth welting. How beautiful
spring looks after rain. How nature, too,
sings after pain.
In the Winter, You Made Me Tea Through the Coffeemaker
There were, of course, the doctor
appointments you accompanied
me with, after repeatedly finding
blood in my urine–fearing it
was a symptom of something worse
lying underneath. That is life, after
all. Fear of something worse. In the winter
you made me tea through the coffee-
maker, and I made you homemade
soup and around we went like that
in the snowy evenings until spring.
The birds migrated home, ice broke
in the rivers, letting water through.
How nice it was to go for walks again,
not having to wear several layers.
You even said to me: How nice
it is to go for walks again, not
having to wear several layers.
And we held hands–the dog
pulling on its leash–while
passing the neighborhood kids
riding their bikes. Remember
how we held hands? Passing
the kids? With their bikes?
Remember how we, too, used
to be kids? Playing tag in our back-
yards? Swimming in the pool
with our clothes on when we forgot
to bring suits? Remember how at night
you would read aloud to me and, once,
stopped to ask me if I knew the true
meaning of agony? Agony is this:
I have loved you as best as I could.
Listen, I Need to Tell You Something.
Inside my dream, a dream.
A cat sunning itself in the bay window.
A small party. Silk, satin, some other materials.
There are strangers who have loved me.
There are lovers who have left me.
I have written tirelessly about both.
Fast traffic. Wet snow. The sound
of acrylic nails tapping on a wooden
bar-top counter. The smell of citrus on your mouth
sipping an Old-Fashioned. Once,
we went to a movie and forgot to watch.
Once, we went to the store and came home
with sour milk. I sometimes wonder
why our childhood bedrooms seem
so much smaller as adults. Perfume.
Hand soap. A song, playing from a spinning
record. Gravel sounding under stumbling
feet. A car door slamming shut. Listen–
I need to tell you something.
About the Author: Andrea Lawler is a poet, essayist, and short story writer. She holds a degree in English Language & Literature.