I THINK, THEREFORE I HAVE CANCER

At the direction of my endocrinologist, I scheduled a couple tests to make sure my thyroid cancer is still in check.  My labs were OK.  This week, I went to Radiology for an ultrasound, then Nuclear Medicine for a whole body PET scan.  The ultrasound required no special prep.  The instructions for the PET seemed fairly routine until the last few sentences.  I was distressed by the prospect of sitting around for an hour with nothing to read.  Then I was told I musn’t “think too hard.”   After the administration of the fluorosine glucose, I needed to keep
the ol’ gray matter at rest until the scanning process was complete.  PET scans locate cancers by mapping out areas of increased glucose uptake.  Because cancer cells multiply faster than normal cells, they require more glucose.  As do brains when they’re in use, meaning that rumination by the patient could potentially skew the results.  Tell me, how is a person supposed to “not think” while she lies under a scanner waiting for her fate to be decided?  So much the worse if she’s a writer whose mind churns endlessly, chasing metaphors, counting syllables, and wondering why humor rhymes with something as un-funny as a tumor.

The following poem is a VERS BEAUCOUP, French for “many rhymes.” Each four-line stanza adheres to this scheme of internal and enjambed rhyme: a-a-a / a-b-b / b-c-c / c-d-d.

  

NO READING OR THINKING WHILE THE RIDE IS IN MOTION

Nuclear Med Man schedules my PET scan, explains the plan:
OK, ma’am, fast for six hours prior, wear comfortable attire
It also requires avoidance of brain stimulation as cogitation
could be mistaken by the scanner and read as brain cancer.

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RUNNING ON EMPTY

Did you ever have one of those days when everything runs out at the same time?  It starts small, say, squeezing the final splurt of shampoo from the upside-down bottle.  (The conditioner will be fine; Universal Law dictates that the conditioner will never run out on the same day
as the shampoo.)  You lather up using a sliver of soap.  Grab the last Q-tip.  Force the final unwilling blob of toothpaste from the anorexic tube.  The depressurized remains of the styling mousse comes out in
a puddle instead of a lump.  You whisk the last kleenex from the box, dump the crummy, bottom-of-the-barrel kibbles into the dog’s dish, and resort to scraping the mayo jar with a spatula.  The spotty brown banana you were saving for lunch has gone missing.  The kitchen light bulb blows out.  You pour your coffee directly into the cream carton and swish it around to get the last little bit.  Your prescription needs
to be refilled.  You have two bills to mail and only one stamp.  As you update your to-do list, your pen runs out of ink…

I’ve condensed this phenomenon into a LIRA.  As you may recall, a Lira is a five-line poem with syllabic rules (7-11-7-7-11) as well as a scheme of rhyme and refrain (a-B-a-b-B).

WHAT’S IT GONNA BE?

Empty toilet paper core
A running-out day is what it’s gonna be
No clean socks in my top drawer
Two-crust sandwich, car on “E”
A running-out day is what it’s gonna be

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BEHIND THE CLOSET DOORS

Welcome to the Land of Unfinished Projects!  Partially strung beads, half-baked Christmas ornaments, mostly empty sketchbooks, scrap books and photo albums.  Two tattered duvet covers waiting to be patchworked into one usable one, a file box of semi-sorted medical papers, the “One-Year Bible” I got five years ago, its bookmark still wedged somewhere in Genesis.  I suspect the Road to Hell passes through this closet, albeit an unpaved section, flanked by stacks of perfectly good intentions the construction workers haven’t gotten around to laying yet.

Years ago, I started crocheting an afghan with “found” skeins of yarn from a failed sweater project.  When the “afghan” reached the size of
a super-long, super-fat scarf, I realized I’d need more yarn in order to finish it.  JoAnn’s had long since discontinued that brand and carried nothing with a similar blend of wool and acrylic.  Not to worry, folks, I found it on E-Bay:  36 brand new skeins at a price I couldn’t pass up.  The package arrived and I dived in with gusto, diligently adding a few rows every night.  Until summer came and it got too hot to work on it.
I bought an XL Tote at Dollar General, put the afghan and remaining yarn in it, and shoved it in the closet.  I unearthed it during my recent decluttering spree.  It was below zero, perfect weather to snuggle up under the wooly beast and get my crochet hook moving again.

The poem below is a LIRA.

STALLED PROJECT

Thirty skeins of bargain yarn
tucked away in a box on a closet shelf
for an afghan, thick and warm
one that won’t crochet itself
tucked away in a box on a closet shelf

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CONFESSIONS OF A MAGPIE

One of my New Year’s resolutions was to declutter my garage and my closets.  Having squirreled it away piece by piece, I was stunned by the sheer volume of stuff I had crammed onto shelves and into cupboards, drawers, cardboard boxes, and plastic totes “in case I might need it.”  There were parts from things I don’t own anymore and others I could not even identify.  Warranty paperwork from three lawnmowers ago.  Parallel printer cords, presumably from a dot matrix printer we had in the 90’s.  Most impressive was my collection of “Other-Ware,” lidded plastic food containers I feel compelled to reuse because they can’t be recycled.  I assume I inherited my magpie tendencies from my grand-mother, who saved and repurposed everything.  Margarine tubs held leftovers.  Paper bags became book covers.  Family-sized boxes from Post Toasties lined the bathroom trash can.  When she passed on, the closets in her upstairs bedrooms were stuffed to the gills with fabric.
I recognized a remnant that had been around for decades.  My mom probably had a dress made out of it, one that got handed down to all five of her sisters before it ended up in a rag rug.  When I was a child, Grandma used a scrap of that same fabric to sew a dress for my doll.
It popped up again in the quilt I received for graduation and I’d bet it plays a supporting role in some of my cousins’ quilts, too.

I took a deep breath.  I chucked glass and paper and cardboard into my recycling bin.  I filled two 35-gallon trash bags with Styrofoam and #4 and #5 plastics.  In the end, I couldn’t resist snatching back a few of the discards.  C’mon… you never know when you might need an ice cream bucket or a manila envelope or some packing peanuts…


The following “list” poem is also a KYRIELLE.  Click HERE for the rules on how to write one.

NATURE OR NURTURE?

My storage spaces overflow
with salvaged things I can’t let go
Be it malady or frugality,
my grandma’s spirit lives in me

Empty shoeboxes, tin pie pans,
mayonnaise jars and coffee cans,
tubs from yogurt and cottage cheese
My grandma’s spirit lives in me

Brittle thread and fabric scraps,
reams of paper grocery sacks,
plastic spoons from the Dairy Queen
My grandma’s spirit lives in me

I’ll brave recession or depression
horsemen, trumpets, Armageddon
armed with bread bags and ingenuity
My grandma’s spirit lives in me

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ALL IS CALM, ALL IS BRIGHT

For most of the year, I’m perfectly happy with shadows and darkness.  But the approach of winter solstice awakens in me an almost primal need for illumination, as evidenced by my recent household projects.

Setting up our life-sized crèche, powered by six extension cords:

Installing the Lego lighting kit in my little VW Bus.
Oooooh!  Ahhhhh!
Headlights, tail lights, signal lights, and overhead cabin lights:

Decorating my lime tree with a garland of twinkling stars:

Writing another Lanturne:

NOEL
Light
Shining
Luminous
In the Manger
Christ

 

But light can be metaphorical as well as literal.  I drove out to Dollar General yesterday to buy some non-perishable items for our Little Free Pantry.  I had already shopped there three times during the week and accumulated three coupons for $5 off a $25 order, all redeemable 22 Dec 18, not to be combined with any other coupon or offer.  I pushed my cart through the grocery aisles tossing in beans, vegetables, fruits, canned meats, pastas, sauce, macaroni and cheese, and jars of peanut butter.  Then some holiday items: cinnamon, ginger and vanilla, poultry seasoning, Stove Top stuffing, cranberry sauce, cookie mixes, frosting and sprinkles, hot chocolate and marshmallows.  I knew I had gone way over budget and briefly considered putting all the frivolous items back, but a voice inside assured me that I would be able to afford everything.

Just one register was open.  The clerk was hesitant to let me divide my order into three piles and use all three coupons, but she relented when I explained the food would be donated to charity.  Checking out took a while.  The line grew longer and the customers behind me grew antsy.  As the clerk scanned the final pile of groceries, a man in the line leaned toward me, held out his credit card and said, “This is the card you’ll want to use for that, Miss.”  It was the most expensive of the three piles, well over $50.  I asked if he was sure.  “Positive,” he smiled.  He’d overheard enough to figure out what I was doing and wanted to help.  The rest of the customers nodded approvingly, their irritation forgotten.  Greetings and blessings were exchanged and afterward, we parted ways, each of us touched by the glow of goodwill, carrying it like a torch into the cold, gray afternoon.

Merry Christmas!  May you all be bearers of the light.

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SPOTLIGHT ON BODILY FUNCTIONS

A call of nature occurred as I was driving on the small state highway between my folks’ house and the interstate. It’s mostly farm country, but you pass through one or two towns large enough to have a gas station.  Back then, the bathrooms were locked up and you had to go inside to get the key.  And everything closed at 10 pm; if it was later than that, you were out of luck.  That was my situation, one growing ever more dire.  Fearing the untimely appearance of a state trooper,
I turned off on a smaller road to take a quick whiz.  It was pitch dark
and I figured if I was careful, no one would be the wiser:

STOPPING TO PEE
ON A MOONLESS NIGHT

Whose fields these are I do not know
It doesn’t really matter though
My bladder has begun to twitch;
without relief, it might explode

On a county road as dark as pitch,
I brake just inches from the ditch
Hop out and feel my way around
then slide my jeans below my hips

Against the chrome, I hunker down
A sizzling jet-stream hits the ground
and thunders on non-stop until…
Is that a snake? That hissing sound?

Astonished by my speed and skill,
I launch myself right off the grille
and activate a motion light
whose million watts upon me spill

As jeans and bum I re-unite,
I wonder if some farmer might
have seen the moon that moonless night
have seen the moon that moonless night

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RORY STRIKES AGAIN!

Definitely a more challenging roll this time:
Pyramid
Water under the bridge
Footprint
Daisy
House
High rise
Lightning
Evil shadow
Frown

Juliana frowned and wrapped herself tighter in the afghan.  There was nothing good on TV – reruns of The Andy Griffith Show, NCIS, This Old House, a documentary about the pyramids, something about reducing your carbon footprint.  She wasn’t sick exactly, but it was easier to fib about having the flu than explain the real problem to her boss.  Some days she just couldn’t go out.  Six months of therapy hadn’t turned her phobias into water under the bridge.  No, they still nipped at her heels, following her like a sinister shadow.  The remains of last night’s dinner sat on the coffee table, stray bits of rice, wooden chopsticks, and two soggy cartons from China Moon.  Their sesame chicken was only so-so, but they delivered.  Next to the mess was an orange gerbera daisy in a green ceramic pot, a present from her little sister, Kate. Juliana envied Kate; she was so fearless.  She didn’t freak out during lightning storms.  She rode public busses and never worried about germs.  She lived in a high-rise—an efficiency apartment on the 17th floor!—and rode in the elevator every day.  Kate sat on her balcony, for God’s sake, sipping on Chardonnay and enjoying the view from a height that would have made Juliana break out in hives.  Dr. Sillman kept suggesting medication, and Juliana kept coming up with excuses not to take it.  But was this the way she wanted to spend her life?  Lying to her boss, flipping through the channels, eating bad sesame chicken, and staring at that annoying daisy?

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BLOCKED? RORY TO THE RESCUE!

I came upon Rory’s Story Cubes at Bed, Bath & Beyond on an end cap dedicated to cheap kiddie toys—yoyo’s and silly putty and Spirograph Junior.  My inner artist was begging for a set, so I obliged and forked over the $5.99.  It went in her Christmas stocking and ultimately ended up on a closet shelf.  I serendipitously rediscovered it during a recent bout of writer’s block.  Inside the orange pouch are nine dice.  Instead
of numbers, each face has a picture on it.  You roll the dice, then write or tell a story that includes all nine of the objects pictured.  A simple creativity generator.  So anyway, this was my first roll:

Dice
Magnet
House
Fountain
Fish
Tree
Bee
Apple
Telephone

And here is the story I came up with:

Ever since Peg’s eyes had been opened, she saw homeless folks, stray cats and dogs, hitchhikers, and drivers with dead batteries everywhere. In under a year, she had given away more dollars and shelter and rides and jump starts than she could begin to count. Even within the protect-tive walls of her house, Peg attracted charity cases like a magnet.  She rolled the dice and took her chances every time she answered the tele-phone, knowing she could not resist any plea to save the children, the trees, the bees, or whatever little-known fish was now endangered due to an oil spill.  Even though her cash flow was more of a trickle than a fountain, the fluttery rush of do-gooding had become quite addictive.  When the doorbell rang, Peg hurried to answer it, expecting to find a neighbor who was short a cup of sugar or in need of someone to sign for a package.  Peering through the peephole, she regarded a stout, cellophane-wrapped fruit basket sitting atop her welcome mat.  There was no sign of whoever had left it.  She hoisted it up by its handle and carried it to the kitchen table, admiring the trio of blushing Honeycrisp apples visible through the film—her favorite.  The card was unsigned;
it simply said, “For all you do.”  Peg undoubtedly deserved the gift, but had taken great care to remain anonymous and thus avoid any sort of repayment.  Someone knew her secret.  The question was, who?

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THE SCARLET LUDDITE*

I lost my self-check virginity at 43.  Five o’clock rush was in full swing at the grocery and the cashiered lanes were jammed.  At the far end, the self-check barker hollers, “Step right up, folks!  Noooooo waiting!”  My earnest desire to save ten minutes quickly devolves into an S&M night-mare, a threesome with Evil Siri and a hillbilly clerk who take turns verbally spanking me while I screw myself and turn fifty shades of red.

Self-checks are all business—no foreplay with the mints and gum, no perusing tabloid headlines.  I punch START, scan my reward card, and set my reusable bag on the carousel.  A smooth female voice scolds, “Please remove your item, scan it, and place it in the bag.”  The bag is empty, so I pay no mind.  I wave a can of pineapples over the scanner.  Nothing happens.  After several more (literally) fruitless attempts, the attendant scurries over.  “It’s your shopping bag,” she says.  “If you’re gonna use your own bag, you gotta say so before you start.”  She hits CANCEL.  When the screen resets, she demonstrates, as if to an idiot, how to press USE MY OWN BAG.

I scan the pineapples… beep.  Cat food… beep.  Cake mix… beep.  Frosting… beep.  Finding my groove at last.  Birthday card… beep.  I slide it into the bag. “Please place the item in the bag,” says the voice.  Ummm, it is.  I take it out and shove it in harder, but the voice drones on, unconvinced, until the attendant arrives and hits the bypass key.  She shrugs.  “Sometimes lightweight stuff don’t register.”

Organic bananas.  It wants the PLU number on the sticker.  94011…  ENTER.  “Weighing, please wait” says the voice.  I’m patient for fully twenty seconds before glowering at the attendant, who grudgingly grants the bananas passage into the bag.  Organic avocado.  94225…  ENTER.  The same screen reappears.  Figuring I must have keyed it in wrong, I re-enter the digits.  This time, it works.  Relieved, I place the avocado in the bag and hit FINISH“Do you have any coupons?”  NO.
I swipe my VISA and inexplicably, the transaction is declined.

As I gather my wits, the attendant struts over.  Apparently, that second screen was asking how many avocadoes I had.  I’ve exceeded her void limit; she’s got to page the manager.  I’m mortified, but the expression on the guy’s face when he sees the total, $94,235.56, is almost worth it.  He voids and re-rings.  I pay and slink off to the parking lot in shame.  Oblivious to his frantic shouts, I make it halfway to my car before he catches me, proffering, with a saccharine smile, a familiar-looking reusable bag.  “Forget something?”

Oops, better make that fifty-one shades of red.

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*This true story made it to the final round in the 2018 Erma Bombeck Humor Writing Contest.

ENTERTAINING ANGELS UNAWARE

‘Tis the season of charitable giving.  The most cheerful givers tend to
be those who’ve been on the receiving end, often quite recently.  This week, I would like to share a Christmas story that’s near and dear to my heart.  They say you cannot spread joy to others without some spilling back on yourself.  Luckily, joy won’t stain your shirt, like turkey gravy or cherry pie.  So feel free to spread and spill as much as you want:

ONCE UPON A TIME, there was a young couple who lived in a drafty rental house in upstate New York with their five cats, three of which were not sanctioned by the landlord and had to be kept hidden. They dreamed of owning a home and taking in all the strays they wanted. When they learned the Air Force was moving them to Dayton, Ohio, they contacted a realtor in Yellow Springs, a liberal village that felt right to them.  There were only a couple homes in their price range.  They trekked across I-90 three times that autumn to check out the possibilities and made an offer on the best one, a small, sturdy brick ranch with a fenced backyard, located on a quiet cul-de-sac.

The bank required a thick stack of paperwork, their finances laid bare on the loan officer’s desk.  They had overextended themselves in the past:  a new car, a motorcycle, a vacation to Europe, vet bills for the cats.  They had gone through credit counseling and reined in their spending, but they were still a long way from paying off their debts.  The loan officer reviewed their forms and shook her head.  But if they were willing to jump through some hoops and obtain a VA guarantee, maybe she could swing it.  The VA packet was thicker and even more daunting, but they persevered and the guarantee was granted.  Even so, their application was iffy.  The loan officer issued strict instructions not to touch their credit cards or deplete their accounts for anything frivolous.  Just rent, utilities, food, and existing loans.  Nothing else.  Every dollar counted and the approval of their mortgage hung in the balance.  This meant there would be no tree, no presents, no trip home, no Christmas.  They sighed heavily; the thought of it was almost too depressing to contemplate.

The next morning, they took stock of their assets.  A trunk of lights and Christmas decorations.  Flour, sugar, and cookie cutters.  Miscellaneous craft supplies.  Paper, envelopes, and a book of postage stamps.  They pooled the cash from their wallets and added the change from the big Mason jar, a grand total of $64.  They obviously couldn’t buy and mail gifts to everyone, so they devised a plan.  They would fulfill one wish from the Angel Tree, spending fifty of their precious dollars on a fancy dollhouse for an underprivileged child.  The wife sent a letter to their closest family and friends explaining their circumstances.  Inside each, she enclosed a handmade angel ornament crafted from white felt and lace and buttons, a reminder that however little one might have, there is always someone who has less.  They baked sugar cookies to munch on.  There wasn’t enough left over for a tree or a holiday dinner with all the trimmings, but it didn’t matter.  All they really wanted was good news about their house.

Two evenings before Christmas, they heard a knock at their front door.  On the porch was their neighbor, Tim, wanting to know if they needed help putting up their lights.  He could lend them a ladder.  Tim peered into the living room, wondering aloud why they had no tree or decora-tions, and the whole sad story came pouring out.  He invited the couple to join his family for Christmas dinner, assuring them there would be plenty of food.  Having nowhere else to go, they gratefully accepted.

The following night, Tim dropped by again, this time dragging a lush evergreen he’d gotten for a song from a tree dealer eager to clear his lot and head home.  They retrieved their decorations from the attic.  Tim steadied the tree while they secured it in the stand.  They finished stringing up the lights and arranging the ornaments just in time for Midnight Mass.  On Christmas day, Tim and his family welcomed them, inviting them to fill their plates and grab a seat by the tree.  Little did they know, there were gifts for them, too.  Overcome, eyes glistening, they opened up packages of slippers, a throw blanket, hot cocoa mix, cashews, popcorn, and candy.  It was one of their most memorable and joyous Christmases ever.  Tim smiled ear to ear, accepting nothing but their gratitude and the promise that when they were able, they would pass it on.  He could not have imagined what he set in motion that day.

Soon after, their mortgage was approved and they moved into their very own home.  By the following Christmas, they had added a pound puppy to their menagerie and saved up enough to make good on their promise.  For twenty-three years now, they’ve been paying it forward, largely under the radar.  They’d like to keep it that way, so I’m not at liberty to say who they are or exactly what they do, but rest assured, they are real people, just like you.

There are still eight days until Christmas… it’s not too late to spill some joy.  Keep your eyes and ears and heart open; you’ll know what to do.

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