Equation for a Single Mother

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

without her.

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.