Last Updated: March 24th, 2019



“Knock, knock.”
“Who’s there?”

At a party, you’d empty
the room. No one
would even ask,
“Cancer who?”
The word carries
so much fear,
the syllables themselves
could be a carrier!

Cancun, canker,
concert: all OK,
but tweak the letters
in that one certain way
and we panic.

“The big C” in America
is cancer, not Christ,
thanks, John Wayne.

“From Latin cancer, “crab,”
from Ancient Greek karkinos, “crab,”
applied to cancerous tumors
because the enlarged veins
resembled the legs of a crab,”

but pure incantation now,
a blob of fear.

Rebel cells insurgent
towards their host.
Bad guests. Malignant.

We campaign to wipe you out
like the three men in Chaucer
who set out to kill Death.

We need ways of getting
from one lifetime to the next. C
Cancer, though, speaks
not only death,
but pain.


Walking past the cemetery
in my home town on a grey day
years ago, a crow on a branch
on a stark black winter tree
suddenly became Cancer, and I felt
its knife-blade sliding
into Mother,

not the kind of thing I’d tell her
on return. No need to scare her
nor have her think me mad,
yet it seemed a true omen,
symbol brought to life by
an internal force.

No sense of when.
And by the time
leukemia brought her down
I’d long stopped thinking of it.

Her last days, far
from an easy exit,
yet less chilling than
the knife-blade
I’d felt that day.


Our friend Frank
succumbed last week,
six years after his prostate
tested positive.

He lived a full life
almost until the end,
devoted to his own care
and to Marie, his wife,
those sweet-strained
coda years.

We saw him
two days before
he passed.
It seemed the struggle
had taken
all he had.

It was that way
with Mother, too,
more drain than pain.

I recognized a way
I too had gone,
some unremembered time.


Let Mercy show the way,
oh living, dying soul!

We practice dying
daily. When
the time comes,
all succeed.

by Max Reif after a friend’s death recently

Image by skeeze from Pixabay