Marriage – Husband + 2 kids = X
X + 2 jobs – (rent + bills) = Y
X + Y = Z
10 cigarettes per day for 30 years = 10 x 365 x 30 = 109, 500 + 7 leap days = 109, 507
Z + 109,507 cigarettes + 0 medical coverage = C (cancer)
Average female life expectancy in U.S. = 78 years
78 years – C = 53 (early death)
I tell myself that the cancer that ravaged my mother,
bubbling and spreading like hot oil until nothing
was left but the hollowed-out husk
of the strongest woman I’ve ever known,
isn’t the worst that could have happened.
She could have been like Terrie, 52, from North Carolina,
gaping hollow in throat like a port hole,
her voice the grating mechanical rasp
of a dying engine.
She could have been plagued by mental illness,
thinking to the very end that there was something wrong
with her, that she was defective and worthless like
Virginia Woolf, who stuffed her pockets with stones and
sunk, certain, in her last moments,
that the world was better off
She could have been there as Vesuvius erupted,
sending carbon dioxide, hydrogen chloride
and Sulphur dioxide to scorch
her respiratory system with her first breath.
During the second breath, the gassy mixture would thicken
In her lungs and harden into a glue-like substance.
By the third, her windpipe would have sealed shut
and she would have suffocated while her insides cooked.
It could have been worse.
In the end, even the pain had left her,
like a lover who slipped out in the night
leaving only a faint impression on his side
of the bed, a ruffling of the sheets
that she could never smooth out.
Alexander Radison earned his MFA in poetry from Queens College, and is currently an Adjunct Professor of English at SUNY Suffolk. His work has appeared in Newtown Literary, The Violet Hour, The Coachella Review, Rattle, and at www.laborarts.org, where he won the "Making Work Visible" poetry prize, among others. He is the owner and creator of The Pickling Poet, and the Editor-In-Chief of the international literary journal, Brine.