Cancer Blues

I grew up in a world

where everything was fine and dandy. 

I lived with mommy and daddy,

and grandma always bought me my favorite candy. 

Grandpa walked me to 1st grade every morning,

and we vacationed at beaches so sandy. 

What could possibly go wrong?


One day after school,

daddy never came to pick me up. 

Had he forgotten? Was he busy? 

Where was daddy?

I look around and see a crowd

forming around someone lying on the ground. 

I wish they would quiet down

I’m looking for my daddy. 

Then I see little Alex Palinski

sprinting towards me from the crowd,

eyes wide, hair wild,

feet pounding the pavement. 

“It’s your dad! Your dad! He’s fainted on the ground!”


I ran as fast as I could

and slowed when I saw daddy’s shoes

poking out next to piles of bloody bandages,

and daddy, with his eyes unopen,

sprawled on the ground. 

My world began to spin as all the adults

with all the worried faces

and all the urgent tones

asked me if I knew this man

and then I saw

the big red ambulance down the street and heard the distant sound

of blaring sirens and the concerned voices

asking me if I was okay

but I couldn’t move

I couldn’t breathe

I couldn’t speak. 

How was I supposed to say I was okay when my daddy was lying on the ground in front of me,

his face barely distinguishable amidst the mountains of bloody bandages?


Daddy got taken to the hospital and 

I was taken to the neighbor’s house. 

Two days later, I find out

daddy has a brain tumor. 

The doctors say he has 6 months to live. 


Now mommy cries and daddy doesn’t live with us and grandma and grandpa have gone back to China.

“We can’t afford to have them live with us anymore,” said mommy. 

Now every month mommy and daddy go to Washington DC so daddy can see the doctor, 

and I am sent to stay with family friends,

in strange, unfamiliar environments, 

with people I barely know who are

much older than me

and who,

like mommy,

would never tell me much about what was happening to daddy. 


I cried and screamed and kicked

every time I was sent 

to these strangers’ homes. 

I was afraid and lonely and wanted to

go with mommy and daddy

but I had to stay here, I was told,

don’t make any more trouble for mommy and daddy. 

I laid awake in the cold, hard beds,

haunted by nightmares of daddy dying 

or being eaten by monsters under the bed

or being taken to faraway lands where I would never see him again. 

Would we ever go back to the white, sandy beaches and 

have our weekly family picnics

ever again?

I couldn’t sleep. 

I couldn’t stand the darkness,

the fear, the confusion, the uncertainty. 

I needed something to comfort me. 

I remembered something we had learned in school:

a haiku,

a short little poem,

a form of expression,

an outlet for my fears,

my hopes, my dreams, my anxieties. 

I groped around in the darkness

for the pretty pink journal mommy had bought me for my birthday,

and opened to the crisp, clean first page. 


I began to write

a simple little haiku

about my daddy. 

“Daddy where are you?

You are not home anymore. 

Will you be okay?”


“I miss the picnics

with both mommy and daddy

in the pretty park.”


I found these poems

were utterly relaxing

and helped me calm down. 


I found myself writing more and more,

filling up my little journal,

with poems expressing my thoughts and fears,

hopes and memories,

even silly little made-up stories. 

Poetry was my refuge, 

my safe haven,

my comfort in times of loneliness and uncertainty. 

Poetry taught me that everything turns out alright. 

Poetry got me through each excruciating stay 

with yet another family friend

who I barely knew

and who usually had no kids my age. 

Poetry became my friend,

my hobby, 

my passion,

my confidante. 


In the end, daddy was okay. 

The doctors got most of the tumor out. 

Daddy never looked the same,

with scars on his head where he had his surgeries,

and less hair on his head, 

with a thin, gaunt frame,

but the trips to the doctor became less frequent, 

and daddy moved back home again. 

Poetry got me through it all. 

I didn’t feel so alone. 

It gave me a chance to escape 

from my worries,

my fears,

my woes. 

Writing about them made them seem a little less scary. 

Poetry is my lifelong passion, 

and I am forever grateful for its

presence during the scariest,

most frightening moments of my life. 

This poem is about: 
My family
Our world


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