While here in Hawaii for my recovery from eight months of breast cancer treatment, my partner Craig and I are creating a small house on a piece of land we share with two local friends. Whenever I walk in that half-finished shell of a house, whenever I paint the blades of a used fan or the rusty metal body of a salvaged light fixture, whenever we talk about dinner parties we'll have on our lanai, or argue over paint colors, whenever I do something related to the future, several conflicting voices and aspects of myself chatter away in my head. One of them says, "If I don't get to enjoy this place, I'm going to be incredibly angry!" Another tries to imagine what it would be like for Craig if he came back next winter without me. Another longs for the good old days when "death was nowhere foraging among the cottonwood trees," as I wrote in a poem, pre-cancer. Another scolds me for morbid thoughts. Another reminds me that the (half) truth about cancer is no different than the (half) truth of life. There are no guarantees. Death doesn't care if you're spiritual, vegan, athletic, Catholic, organic, or a Packers fan. Cancer doesn't care either. So there is only this: sky partly cloudy, a light, damp breeze, murals of giant painted fruit on the yellow plywood walls of the Kava Cafe, the bitter sludge at the bottom of a coconut shell cup of kava, Kenny Loggins' voice crooning through a speaker: "Everything is gonna be all right." The best (half) lie of all.
Here's that poem:
THE EGG COUPLETS
Only one egg today when I trudged out to throw
slop to the hens, scatter ash on the path.
It’s February, the sun’s coming back and now
when he hears my voice, Olaf throws back his head
and crows. Big yellow man towers over his girls
like a coach, gives me the yellow eye.
The egg was green. I pocketed it, refilled
the water trough, scattered cracked corn. Tomorrow
I’ll wake to the smell of a buttery concoction
the teens fry up, a protein storm of eggs and bacon.
But the egg was better in the pocket of my coat
that smells like a barn. Uncracked, shit-stained, still warm.
No, the egg was better in its bed of straw,
me kneeling, reaching, my fingers closing around.
Or best unseen, descending the fallopian tube
of the Arucana hen, announced by a string of bawls.
Now that I’ve traced it back, I realize
it was sweetest before it happened.
I walked to the coop on two strong legs
lugging a watering can and a bucket of feed.
The coop was there, the six chickens all accounted for.
Even the geriatric, Rhoda, who once in a while still
squeezes out a bullet-shaped double-yolker.
No owl devouring the hens as in my dream.
My knees bent, I scrunched myself into the opening
Of the nesting shed and reached.
My arms and legs did what my mind said.
Birch trees scattered their tiny seeds.
The sun cleared the net of trees, a bleary yolk
in an egg-white froth of fog over the bay.
Walking back the dog waited for me,
the egg was warm in my pocket.
My house was there. And I was there,
and the egg for my family. Death was
nowhere foraging in the cottonwood trees.
Now I kneel in front of the stove
raking the ashes for a few live coals
to start the evening fire. I just walked
to the chicken coop and back.
That was all. I placed an egg in the tray
that marks a string of days laid out like that.
A life lived out, egg by egg. It was pretty good.