My Poem about Shingles

Published 2016
The Southampton Review

The Southampton Review | J Brooke

I didn’t think I’d ever write a poem about shingles
but here I am pain and welts
and puss and swell I have
three drugs and two of them work

I am not supposed to be around
“infants, pregnant women, or anyone
on chemotherapy” (said the pretty Madison Avenue dermatologist
diagnosing what I’d assumed inconsequential rash)

My friend Vicki on chemo
for the very last time, I sat crazy
close to the day before my shingles were
uncovered discovered diagnosed treated

I speed called Vicki and called her lovely
husband, worrying the kind of worry eroding
my core most of the day before expanding
filling the night like its own fucking uninvited disease

The infectious disease specialist swore
our contact “didn’t further jeopardize” another
doctor I checked with said “she’s going to die anyway
– and not because of you” making me feel better
not even a spec

Vicki emailed during my panic worrying
about MY pain she heard shingles “can be
very painful” (I’ve heard things concerning
cancer but didn’t email her those)

I did email Vicki a poem
I wrote about how I cannot change
the world but wish I could
she called “beautiful” before saying she was too
tired to write more

Vicki will probably not be
alive when the heat finally breaks
in deep September

Vicki will likely not see
her son begin
his freshman year at Georgetown

Vicki’s son and my son were friends once
upon a time
wobbly-young and sweet
Vicki and I trailing carefully never
picking them up when they fell
so they would grow independent
like a book I read
had said

I will see my son at thanksgiving
this year and pretty probably beyond
that and Vicki won’t see her son finish
growing (they say boys grow until they’re 21 but who really knows
and what’s another inch or two anyway?)

I don’t have anything fatal at the moment
yet you never know but that’s where hope comes
in… I’m more careful crossing streets
than I used to be

And my beautiful spouse makes sure I mammogram
sonogram colonoscopy with rigid regularity, eating
more greens than browns more things swimming
than walking

And yet now I have shingles during the end of Vicki
having cancer and both are kind of killing me
and only one is killing her