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T. R. Hummer: My Wife in Chemo

The secret of language is the secret of disease.

            —Charles Wright


The house of healing is crystalline, clean

     as the diagram of a carbon molecule drawn

With a laser beam on one facet of a diamond.

     All the ugliness in me is flushed out

For a little while. Elizabeth has gone up the stairs

     under the white canopy and entered

The antiseptic door I am not allowed to open.

     Out here, the unclean pandemic; within,

Precise poison distilled to search and destroy

     like secret government agents in unmarked black vans.


Limbo, purgatory, bardo: surely this parking lot

     is one of these. I am stuck in ignorance again.

I never learned the mathematics of chemistry, what

     algorithm plugs into what element. Greywater rain

Splatting suddenly on the windshield is explicable

     by formulae I was never interested in learning

Until now. Elizabeth sends a selfie: how is it able

     to get here from inside the sealed building?

She’s in a blue recliner; I’m in the driver’s seat

     with nowhere to go, utterly lost. It’s as if 

We’re both on a huge airliner but not

     together, neither with a grip on the physics of lift.


Out here I can think about anything. It is easy to think.

     Toyota, Toyota, Kia, Mercedes, black van, Toyota

My neighbors whisper. We’re going on. This is not

     the parking lot of the dead. A gray smokestack

Towers out of the hospital roof. It’s no crematorium,

     but what is it for, then? Elizabeth has a port

In her chest through which they release an infusion,

     Rilkean word, fake transcendence—it’s given.

The chemistry of cancer goes to the very root of the body’s

     biology, the basis of physical Being. It is that profound,

Precisely, profound meaning toward the foundation,

     or, as the dictionary says, deepest or innermost part,

 Chasm, abyss, depths of the sea, innermost secrets

     or mysteries. I sit in a hospital parking lot

Reading the Oxford English Dictionary on my phone.

     I have no idea how that is even possible.


Having no idea is not a bad idea. Having no reason

     to know is no impediment to a holy ignorance.

Hours pass. The clouds thin and shatter, ancient bone.

     Time is so delicate a medium it does not disturb

A particle of that detritus—it sends out its thugs

     to clean things up. In the photo, Elizabeth gives me

A brave smile. Shifting light from the afternoon sun

     revealed through the clouds’ lesion does not dim it

But tricks my eyes into a kind of blindness that tells me

     Yes, those cataracts are coming right along,

My ophthalmologist’s favorite joke. The little light

     he trains on my retinas carves out darkness

Like a scalpel. There will be months of this. God

     is a trail of blood time leaves in the snow

After marching over us. One day there will be

     leaves in the snow in this parking lot,

And I will be here then too, waiting for Elizabeth

     to text me Almost finished. Her words

Fly out of the house of healing invisibly, I don’t

     know how. The chemistry of reading them floods

Through my neurons, surely, but I don’t understand it,

     this deep in my seventieth year, almost finished.

Copyright 2022 T.R. Hummer

T.R. Hummer’s many books include Available Surfaces: Essays on Poesis (University of Michigan Press, 2012).

St. Vincent’s Hospital corridor

10 comments on “T. R. Hummer: My Wife in Chemo

  1. Charles
    December 27, 2022

    The state of being trapped outside of a hospital with a loved one inside; the apartness and helplessness, anguish and hope of the person outside waiting doing what he can. Very relatable and powerful poem.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Les Bares
    February 24, 2022

    Thank you for this powerful poem. It connected with me in ways I think only someone who has experienced a partner going through cancer can understand. My wife, the poet Roselyn Elliott, finished her cancer treatments about a year ago with great success. I write this to encourage you to keep the faith in medicine, all those unknowns. It is what sustains those of us who wait in our cars for love to return.
    Les Bares

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Shelley Moench-Kelly
    February 23, 2022

    So beautiful, so very true. Much love to you both and love and light for healing.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Susan Berlin
    February 22, 2022

    O, my heart. This poem conveys the stunned disconnect, the fear and the total brain fog that comes when trying to understand a twist of fate that is truly impossible to grasp.

    Liked by 3 people

  5. Barbara Huntington
    February 22, 2022

    And we know and we don’t know, but we hid on to hope, just as the unknowable picture comes through the phone, we hold on to unknowns, but it is all there. The love, the now. Thank you.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. pamuschuk
    February 22, 2022

    Beautiful, Terry, heart-rending and beautiful. You caught every bit of this horror I know so well. Love to you and Elizabeth.

    Liked by 2 people

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This entry was posted on February 22, 2022 by in Health and Nutrition, Most Popular, Opinion Leaders, Poetry and tagged , , , .

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