The Long Regretful Wait

By Tony Woodlief

PhoneMy mother’s quavering voicemail was right: I hadn’t called in a long time. I justified my neglect with the assurance that I’d called on her birthday, I’d called on Mother’s Day, I’d made my dutiful calls even though I suspected she was mad at me. I made them and she didn’t answer.

I hadn’t called in a long time, but goddammit, neither had she.

My mother’s tears always put a knot in my gut. Once as a boy I fell asleep on her bed, and woke to her weeping. On the television were men, some in brown uniforms, some wearing white sheets. They stood shouting in the parking lot of our local library. The next day Mama put a letter in our mailbox, and the newspaper published it.

A week later, angry people were calling our house. Mama argued with some, hung up quickly on others. I beat her to the phone once, and a woman asked: “Just what is your mama’s problem with the Klan?”

Only God knows what my mother would have done to that woman, had she possessed the power to reach through the phone. [Read more…]

The Wounds of Resurrection

Doubting ThomasAs my husband prepared for an Easter sermon a few weeks ago, our dinnertime conversations during Lent turned to Jesus’s appearance to the disciples after his resurrection, to the episode where poor Thomas is saddled with his unfortunate moniker. Carravaggio painted a terribly potent picture of Thomas probing Jesus’s wounds, his lord’s flesh curving over the doubter’s finger.

With its emphasis on suffering, broken bodies, deprivation, and wounds, Lent’s focus isn’t far from the realities since my father’s cancer diagnosis a year ago: surgery, chemotherapy, radiation, the failure of his natural killer cells.

When you have a loved one with cancer, you enter the cloud of unknowing, or perhaps it’s a club of unknowing, a society of those wedged in the grief and emotional confusion that a non-linear illness brings to all who are involved. In this club you might become more familiar with the less famed side effects of chemo like neuropathy and a sensitivity to hot or cold, with the comments people make in an effort at sympathy, or with the ebb and flow of sadness, guilt, and normal life.

Lent puts us in mind of those wounds and scars, of bodies failing, of death. But when Easter comes, and we celebrate resurrection, it sometimes feels like those wounds are mended too quickly. Or perhaps they were never really healed. [Read more…]

Thawing at the Edges

thawing creekWhen the spring teases me one day, outplaying the winter dullness for just an afternoon, I go for a solitary walk. In my seven years in the Midwest, I’ve come to dread this part of the year. It’s not the liturgical season of Lent or the lament that comes along with it that I dread (lament is something I seem to be doing anyway these days). What I dread is the last months of winter when the novelty of snow and cold has worn off and we are left with the prediction of a rodent’s shadow.

My Texas constitution was built for sticky leather seats in summer, not the muted grays of a winter when everything left outside cracks, breaks, and busts. Ash Wednesday is a straightforward service to perform because ashes are everywhere; so much is burning, trying to keep all of us warm.

As I step out onto the bridge over our creek during my walk, the ice below begins to break apart. Some say it sounds like a gunshot when ice cracks. Perhaps it’s because a shallow creek is coming undone, and not a large lake, that I think not of guns but of a tree falling.

It’s funny that the rending of one thing should be reminiscent of the other.

I stop at the bridge’s edge and lean over, straining to see where the ice is breaking away. There’s a large hole, like a wound, in the middle of the creek. Water flows freely through it. I am transfixed by tracks on the ice around the hole. They look like chicken scratchings, as if some fowl creature has been tapping at the ice. The etchings are beautiful the way brutal natural things can be.

“I need you to think about what you will do if your grandmother doesn’t make it.” My mom tells me over the phone from Texas the day before. [Read more…]

Above Calcutta

Kalkata sun

By Laura Bramon

The summer before you died, I hid on the roof in Tollygunge. I walked part of the way home from Sudder Street and by the time I got to the apartment building where I was staying, the sooty red sunset had spent itself. Dusk sifted in the quarter’s dim air, and from the park by the main road a wedding feast’s smoke, incense, and music rose up from beneath a red lit tent. I had lost my keys; I couldn’t get into the little apartment. But I could get into the stairwell, so I went up to the roof.

I thought I was alone above Calcutta.

The trip to this city had been planned quickly. I was offered a task and an adventure, a chance to do new work; I would stay with three young American men in their makeshift office-cum-apartment, which amused me. But you were sick and I didn’t know if I should go.

“When would you come back?” you asked when we talked on the phone.

“I’d only be gone a month or so,” I said. [Read more…]

The Destruction of a Man

Boxer of QuirinalThis year 233,000 American men will be diagnosed with prostate cancer, while almost the same number of American women will be diagnosed with invasive breast cancer.

What breast cancer is for women prostate cancer is for men. And yet the funding of prostate cancer research is less than half that for breast cancer. In 2012, the National Cancer Institute spent $602.7 million on breast cancer, but only $256.3 million on prostate cancer. This amounts to $2,590 per new case of invasive breast cancer as opposed to $1,100 for every prostate case.

Feminists who complain about gender discrepancies in every other corner of American life are oddly silent about the discrepancy in cancer funding. But they do no more than mimic the silence of American men.

The National Football League, for example, promotes “A Crucial Catch,” a month-long campaign “to support the fight against breast cancer.” During October, NFL players wear pink game apparel, which is later auctioned off to raise money for breast cancer research.

And prostate cancer? The league does nothing whatever, even though—if the rates in the general population hold for them—242 of the men on the NFL’s active rosters this season will eventually come down with the cancer and forty-seven of them will die of it. [Read more…]


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