The Face of Cancer

Her eyes never even focused on us,
They were looking far away
To a place where nothing hurts,
And rectal cancer doesn’t exist.
Her body moved automatically,
Spread her legs, moved the sheet
So her naked flesh adorned with tubes
Was sprawled for all the white coats to see.
A neatly formed tuft of wired blond hair
Framed a Foley catheter taped in place
Above the rectal tube, the culprit
Leaking yellow-brown feces to soak her bed.
That face, the face of cancer,
No expression no connection
To the sickly pale body violated
By mutated cells and human hands both.
No sound or touch or pain
Could move those eyes from where they gazed;
Those eyes, the last part of her life
The cancer could not reach
Because they’re gone, already moved on.
And we worked over the carcass
And we fixed that rectal tube
And we held her on this earth one more night
And we signed out, proud we did our job,
a Victory, no one died on our shift.

Kim Brown, Chicago, Class of 1998

Originally published in Vol. XIII: 1997