Over lunch we talk about the tumour.
It has a name—invasive mucinous carcinoma—
and a location, time-stamped on your breast:
4:30, in the lower left quadrant.
A foreign language, but you’re a quick study,
ready to navigate this strange land
you never had it on your bucket list
to visit. Everyone knows a few phrases,
from friends who’ve made previous forays—
chemotherapy versus radiation,
the side effects of Tamoxifen,
whether soy is recommended, prohibited.
You ask the waitress for a mug
of antioxidant-rich green tea,
sacrifice the side of fries
for steamed broccoli—
it’s not too late to make
the right choices, start over.
There are other things to talk about,
but we don’t. Cancer beguiles us now,
so we dissect its progress
the way we once parsed
a man’s every word and gesture,
puzzling his intentions—serious
or flirtatious—searching for something
sinister, some proof of deception
or faith. Later we walk out
into the January day, a glorious
blue blaze, every window of every building
on fire. The day you went to the doctor
for the results was a day like this—
No way, you thought, no way
could there be bad news, as though
the sun were a shield against the impossible.
So happy in your new fuzzy sweater,
looking forward to an evening alone
with your book, your cat, leftover
Christmas chocolate for dinner.
No one knows how we got this old.
EVELYN LAU is the 2011-2014 Vancouver Poet Laureate. Her poetry has received the Milton Acorn Award, a National Magazine Award, and a Governor General’s nomination. Her most recent collection, A Grain of Rice (Oolichan, 2012), was shortlisted for the Dorothy Livesay Award and the Pat Lowther Award.