This is Smith Center for Healing and the Arts’ first poetry zine! It was created to be inclusive of the voices of cancer patients, survivors, caregivers, family, friends, providers, researchers, and more. These poems serve as an outlet to heal through creativity for those directly or indirectly impacted by cancer.

you to everyone who submitted their original poetry. We are so grateful to have received and read your cancer experiences and beautiful metaphors. And to those who are reading and supporting this poetry zine, thank you for taking the time to embark on this journey of healing through poetry. This zine is a labor of healing & love for the cancer community. We hope you enjoy it as much as we do.


Smith Center for Healing and the Arts Calista Ogburn and Carla Stillwagon

I Was Always Falling

by Stacie Marinelli

I was always falling that year, tumbling into sunken living rooms, cascading clumsily off couches, tripping on the way into a subway car.

All year I was disoriented, gravity-deficient, space walking into the murky universe of malignancy – that is, after my diagnosis,
I was unable to stand flat on the floor of my own existence; strapped flat to a radiation table, I was thrown head first into an unstable universe.

Those days I was always catching myself up, wondering what to do next, calculating the odds of survival, holding steady to a schedule of waiting rooms, clinic visits, doctor exams, x-rays, I was celebrating each moment away from suffering, moving forward towards healing.

And there were people all around to catch me, meeting me for coffee, taking me to MRIs cooking for me, preparing soups and smoothies, visiting from out of town, sleeping
on my foldout sofa, and listening, listening.

I was always falling into their arms, their hearts, those days, those months, I was jettisoned into the future, I was rising and falling back into my own life.

Washington, DC / May 2019

Sanctum Sanctorum

by Yael Flusberg

You take away my breath.
I’m used to being five feet above ground,

if you don’t count the layer between concrete and crust.

It took 30 million millennia to manufacture ranges
of your magnitude.

Stones matured underfoot until masons came to lay temples on your remote

mountainsides where ordinary beings practiced becoming luminous before death.

The Children of the Sun trained to cross quickly after that last exhale, after

the passage from air to space.
They tested the bridge to arrive without lagging in the world below.

Some call your cordillera
the backbone of the Americas.
It’s no accident I haven’t returned.

You insist I come cleansed – not
of the carcinoma which was excised with surgical precision,

but of what has taken all these years to develop: the notion that I
was the malignancy,

slowly growing on soft earth, undetected until the liminal state snuck into something more solid:

a rocky life growing into full height.

Dear MS

by Anonymous

A solid thick wood door Red chipped paint Peeling and blistering White cracks of light Where you seep in

You are unwelcome

And yet, you come in anyway I’ve told you to go away

One too many times

So here we are together again

Each time I am ready for your untimely visit I find stillness in your storm

Bug lamp humor in your nagging electrical shocks

With your pathetic arrival you bring gifts you can’t even begin to imagine

Do keep this in mind

I will never invite you with open arms I prefer guests, who frankly…

…Have a little more class

…Enter with more grace

…And know when to leave

Still Standing

by T. Bullock

Diagnosed five years ago; two recurrences. Who said this cancer would grow slow?
A wake up call to be more aware,
To listen to my body. Take more diligent care.
Certainly easier said than done. I’m a caregiver 24/7 with barely the energy for fun.
Programmed for worry. The voices in my head telling me I don’t matter.
I dare not dream so my hopes don’t shatter.
Programmed for guilt; it weighs on me and holds me down. Feeling deeply the weight of everyone’s burdens, my fears and doubts begin to mound.
Treating this cancer has proven to be a challenge. It doesn’t respond to chemo.
We watch closely and check my numbers often. For the cure no one physician knows.
Struggling through hot flashes from surgery’s and medication. Listening to the oncologist with fear and trepidation.
Most day’s I feel I’m in a fog. Just eking out each day. Still I manage every day to make some time to pray.
I pray for my family. I pray for peace.
I ask for stillness when I need to release. I pray for those whose burdens I carry.
I pray that my negativity leaves in a hurry. I ask to accept what I know I can’t change. To live with intention so joy I might gain. Balancing the tightrope of sanity and fear.
Having been through so much but dear lord I’m still here. The line of despair trying desperately not to cross.
Yes, I’m still standing through cancer and loss.


by Yael Flusberg

Barely a life, it might take months to form curves large enough to detect with sonar

or magnetic resonance
until doctors feel confident to suggest small footsteps
in one direction or the other.

Everyone’s diagnosis is the same. We’ll all eventually die;
we lie about when, or what
we’ll achieve before that final trip.

We imagine the end will be larger than life, forget the delayed baggage and long flights, all
that down time, recorded

meditations, session after session, trying to rid ourselves not just
of the malignancy in our midst but what is left behind

each time a new variation visits. Most of us will not choose a place with spectacular sights,
but the ordinary sides:

moonface, bloated belly, rusted joints, praying the main course will treat what aged garlic and shitake broths cannot cure. There will be lymphatic

drainage and all classes of machines, delivering ozone and infrared, unpronounceable cocktail infusions, or those whose names remind

us of Japanese cinematic monsters
conceived as metaphors for nuclear weapons.
Cancer is war. We battle as though we can save the world.

In truth, the medicine might buy a few more precious months –
a summer at the beach,
the chance to establish residency

in a permissive state to swallow 100 orange seconals emptied into sweet juice and drink
in close company once

the undergrowth has overtaken
life’s small pleasures.

I was born into a room filled with any number of technicians,
pain-killing capsules and surgical incisions. Shielded
from my mother’s skin
by closed curtains ensuring a hygienic operating field.

When death comes, let it be messy.
Let it be in a room cluttered with freshly cut flowers that will outlive me, barely.

Let it be in a room where the husband
of my middle age can rub oil into my feet and a small cat can purr through
that last small gate.


by Thu-Mai Hoang

The first scary word came out from my oncologist Angel of death
Wanted to take me away to a beautiful place
to join my mom and dad
and leave behind other loved ones
Sad, terrified, happy to join the other side
I am so prepared to leave the human world Suddenly in my head
“If you go away on this summer day” “But if you stay, I’ll make you a day
We’ll sail on the sun, we ‘ll ride on the rain” People who I may leave behind
Who I needed to take care of
My sister who was in a wheelchair Who had kidney failures
Who was on “Dialysis” 3 days a week

I will survive … Youngest sister Who comforted me Who gave me “love” and
Said I will be “o.k.” Youngest brother also said
Hope, Love, Laugh, Happiness will cure all We will be with you all the way
He knows other people who is a cancer survivor after surgery and still live until now
All the “love”
from my husband, my sisters, brothers encouraged meA year passed

After the surgery completed Loss of feeling as a woman Word: “recurrent cancer” another nightmare
Angel of death had come a second time My sister had just passed away
Do I need to be here?
My existence in this world … My husband was so desperate He wanted me to live
He would die if I die
He would do everything And
I prayed to “God” to let me live So
“radiation therapy” it was Painful from the side effect
Undergo the pain, the misery and Exhausted, every day for 6 months, My husband side by side …
Made me happy
My youngest nephew Taught me meditation Breathing …
Five years has passed
Life is a lot of more meaningful now Smile is on my face
My eyes can open now
Hang out with Families and Friends Thanks to my husband
Thanks to my sister, my brothers, niece and nephews … For their patience, entertainments, encouragement

Arts of War

by Nina Murray

2012, Washington, D.C., Arts of War IV

On the bus, he is thinking of god.
The seat is hard, it is of a piece with the whole metal shell that vibrates over the Memorial Bridge cobblestone,
left there to slow the traffic.

The bus is going east. It is early, but it is also March, and he can look at the sun through the mass of air, solid and speckled
above the river like a block of ice unpacked from a straw-filled crate: the sun is a large round thing, quite available.

Sun Tzu would say, dig the wells, knock the wheels off your wagons, build a stockade —
in all ways obscure your urge to retreat.

He laughs at the mind’s ability to offer up Sun Tzu when the rest of him has been swept free of thought.
The doors of perception are cleansed
by abject fear and stand wide open. This gaping void he intuits to be a proper place for god,

a trap, in fact. Consider the bait:
he has surrendered his soul, quite freely–
it had become, somehow, less than human, it had been terrorized like an occupied city, and the last
human thing in it was this ability to watch and wonder if this is how it really works.

At the end of the bridge, the bus turns left.
He sees traces of gilding on the feathered hoofs of the winged war horse.

Arts of Peace

by Nina Murray

2012, Washington, D.C., Arts of Peace V

The hour he cannot never recall is the one
in which he began to believe what he was being told, the prognosis far from the worst,
the pain a shipwreck, a survivor of something that was no longer there.
No omen, but a ghost.

He remembers it was shortly after four when he left the building, an afternoon in April, a storm rolling up the Potomac. Outside, four uniformed Marines had lowered the flag. He saw their hands, sharp in the umber light, cajole on the stripes,
the silk alive, bucking them off, the billows of it
high above their heads. The yokes banged and snapped. The wind thumbed his chest.
He felt the work of being afraid done.

At the traffic light, lilacs whipped in the wind, and the smell slapped on the sidewalk heavy as wet laundry.

The homeless man on the other side watched him cross, looked him in the eye over his mirrored sunglasses, said, F*** you,
what are you lookin’ at?


by Calista Ogburn

i was 9 years old when i found out what cancer was. my mama explained it to me after my aunt got diagnosed with cancer. we went to the beach to come to terms with it. mama always told me that the ocean would heal the wounds. but the salt water felt like burns. it was stinging more into what seemed like years but it only lasted a few months. she tried to describe to me what it felt like for my aunt to have cancer. it was hot outside and my toes dug deep into the sunburnt beige sand. i stared down at it. i didnt look up. i didn’t look at the ocean. i didn’t look at her. i didn’t look at the clouds. i didn’t move.

i watched the ocean waves hug the sandy shore as it poured over my toes. the salt water didn’t burn anymore. i finally understood. i hugged my aunt later that night.