“Cancer: A Paean,” “Legacy,” and “The Three Nuns: A Contrapuntal for Voice and Canvas”

Cancer: A Paean

(for Dr. Karen Houck)

Abditive—that’s you,

sneaky sniper, taking us out

more than a hundred types of ways.

A name change per each organ,

tissue, cell you invade...bronchus,

lung, prostate, colon, uterus...

From the shade you surface

ever so often, scaring folks who

come to find under every substance,

every pigment-holding cell

on the skin, a carcinogen or tumor

they pray benign/they fear malignant.

On your A-game, you steal

through blood and lymph tunnels

seeking to replicate yourself—

metastasis—an act for the selfish,

self-centered—the only growth

for a narcissist. That’s when there’s

no controlling you...no more than

folks smoking/piping, pollution

of air/land/sea, hormones gone wild,

contamination, broken world...

In my case, bleeding/

spotting pale pink, feeling like a boot

stumped my pelvis led the fox chase

straight to your crouch behind a

baby-head-of-a fibroid and blooming

from a lining into connective tissues

though still in one body where doctors

will keep you ‘til vanquishing day...

you see, you uncontrolled-




yet-be-found, we have an ectomy

that’s got one of your many names

on it and the dying hour you threaten

to bring—a surgical catholicon,

vowing more quality of life to live

with family/friends/loved ones to come,

the victory over your sting.


(for Ola Mae Swint Dugan)

flocking in past an orange-copper sunset

family members perch on every visible

chair and begin their chirping

with a snatch at bearable lightness—

she was a wizard at business

kept her brothers’ shops out of hock

you mean bankruptcy

she saved so many right here

from being homeless

a good person, a good lady

and boy could she use the old-time

remedies—she could cure anything

from cough to croup...

the musings kept coming

and they’d go on this way, until reality

morphing to myth morphed to

man she was stubborn though, stubborn...

as a horse, say horse...

a legend...

finally gave way to the silent noise of eating

the repast church ladies kindly catered—

I don’t fact check them, so few barely

visited her, barely knew her, but

she didn’t die on that hill

so, I wouldn’t either

a short while after the call to dinner

cheers the kettle of birds, everyone of them

flies off soon as full and satisfied they’d

done their duty, but I don’t mind

waving bye at the last taking wing, I

venture out to a dark porch, sit on the steps

holding tight the treasure she left me—

a promise that behind the night

the sun still shines

you can see it if

you look hard enough

and I do, in a passing neighbor

who puts aside Peace Lilies, Orchids,

tumbler of tea to still my shaking shoulders

in the phatic yet wordless embrace she gives

and I receive, in our caring contingency...

there’s my mother clear as day

The Three Nuns: A Contrapuntal for Voice and Canvas

(for St. Katharine Drexel and her Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament)

they tell me of

a false cross roaring in flames

on our convent’s lawn

the threats—blow them sisters

and their darky school

to kingdom come

but that’s not

why they’re at the beach today

amor major est odio

indeed love is greater than hate

what would’ve turned one short night

into long weeks of watch and prayer

got snuffed out like a taper

heavy dark clouds showered

rain like you wouldn’t believe

thunder, lightning scattered

those who attacked us as far

away as east is from west

and left our fledgling order of teachers

for the least of our brothers and sisters

convinced even more now

of God’s own sanction

His constant presence and care

with their consent, I sketch them as they speak—

capturing the three making a job of jollity

aged eyes etched in black slants on white

cheeks drawn back in unrestrained laughter

straining white works until fabric gives

to accommodate unspeakable joy—

at the water,

patched against a sun-gilded

horizon, they raise held hands in victory

black veils like sails full of wind

sleeves like an ocean wave’s ebb

cascading down arms

billows of foam lifting hems

of water-soaked habits above shoreline, and

deliberately left unnoted by these beloveds,

grateful for years of permission to be

always one more day

and glad to adore without understanding

About the Author

Olga Dugan

Olga Dugan is a Cave Canem poet. Nominated for Best of the Net and Pushcart prizes, her award-winning poems appear in many literary journals and anthologies including ONE ART, Ekstasis, Channel (Ireland), Relief: A Journal of Art and Faith, The Windhover, Sky Island Journal, Cathexis Northwest Press, The Write Launch, Grand Little Things, Kweli, E-Verse Radio, The Sunlight Press, and Ariel Chart.