A Quarterly Journal of Contemporary English Language Haibun
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June 2009, vol 5 no 2

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Francis Masat


How I Learned the Word "Palliative"
— for Joan Starr, 2005

J’s emails grow fewer through the spring. In early summer, we receive: “Saw the doc; cancer is in my lungs, possibly in the bladder again, and still in my pelvis. We are going to do nothing at this time; once symptoms appear, any chemo will be palliative. My personal horizon is in months, with no one being able to predict when things will wind down. Will have seen all my family by the first week in June, so this is good. Have worked out most of the details with C (bless this child) and the other two are in concurrence; again, thank heavens these children all are in accord. P having a fairly tough time; … this can't be a good time for him. He will go into assisted living once I can no longer look after him. Am sorry to be so self-absorbed right now, but am trying to notify my important people. Will talk later. Much Love, J.”

a hard Autumn wind –
shadows of tree limbs
move through mine

We do not talk. Late August, J dies. Befitting her love of others, J does not "rage against the dying of the light."* She leaves in peace to go with gentle grace “into that good night.”* J lives her belief: All is gained through gentleness.

cobwebs —
the gate still

We are sad, hurt, angry at her leaving. As we move on, we discover that we try “to cloak, conceal” our pain, “to cover by excuses and apologies” medicine’s failure, “to moderate the intensity” of our frustration. We learn that we have become palliative.

home for rent
its front porch
shrouded with ice

* Quotes from Dylan Thomas

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