19. The Reading List

You’ve been reading nonfiction, haven’t you,

absorbed in Five Days at Memorial, the lives

and sordid deaths of patients after Katrina,

devouring late at night its macabre details,

the stench, the screams, the cats, the dogs,

the nurses with morphine and piety in their hands.

And then The Cancer Chronicles, as if it might

help you figure out what’s killing you or why.

We’ve looked into these books. Here’s what we learned:

Taxol was originally isolated from the bark of the Pacific yew tree.This discovery was not serendipitous but the outcome of a government program to systematically screen thousands of plants to find substances that were cytotoxic but tolerable–even if just barely–to the human body. That is the brutal nature of chemotherapy. The first chemo agents were derived from mustard gas, whose antimitotic effects were discovered in victims of chemical warfare. Mustagen, which is used against Hodgkin’s lymphoma and other cancers, is also called nitrogen mustard and is covered under the 1993 Chemical Weapons Convention. (Cancer Chronicles, 111-112)

Well, juicy. And now what? Nothing. You can’t change

a thing about the crap that’s in you, even if it comes

from the yew. From the yew to you. Thanks, govt.

And what about the books you started to read,

the uplifting literature and memory, the mind’s

palliative care in times of distress you nurtured

in the SNF after vitals were taken and nothing

remained for you but the elm and the click

of the Vancomycin dealing death to staph?

You missed so much, Swann’s jealous love

of Odette, the history of Atlantis (more than one)

in Sandover. You won’t get that back. We have them

here with us. We own all of it, we mean literature,

every single fucking word. A few missed nuggets:

He marvelled at the terrible re-creative power of his memory. (SW, 523)

As if he could do that on his own.

…all the things in life that once existed tend to recur. (SW, 518)

Straight out of Giambattista Vico. Nothing new there.

anything worth having’s had both ways. (CL, 174)

This is probably sexual, given who’s writing.


Pay attention especially to that last pronouncement.

Elena has gone for the evening to drink beer with her cousin.

David is roasting a chicken. He puts Prokofiev on the Bose

and signs out of FB. It is the first night he’s been alone in weeks.

The light on his MacBook continues to blink, recording.

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