When first I sit down alone in the morning with coffee, before I fully emerge from an often intricate subway of dreams, I write in my journal. This is one of my most fertile times of the day for me. This is when poems shape themselves. I am not articulate yet in any intellectual sense. I am writing from some dim reckoning place, as the German poet Rilke said, “striking the dark air for music.” When I decided to write the narrative of my journey through ovarian cancer, the drastic chemotherapy I underwent for five months and my struggle to overcome the overwhelming side-effects I suffered, it was late January, 2013, mid-afternoon and I was crumpled over my IPad. I was still writing out of the dark but from a very different place. I wrote from my body, from my intuition, and finally from my mind to create order out of the chaos of trauma. This is what came out:
This desert January afternoon is pillowed with summery clouds that reshape sky as I sit on the patio. My once-flat abdomen is painfully bloated, the same as it has been since before my operation for ovarian cancer in early August, nearly six months ago. I have just finished the full course of my chemotherapy. Pain carves its name inside me, a calligraphy writing itself the length of my body, burning up through my legs, stabbing my side, nettling my feet and hands, twisting my intestines. What does a body at rest feel like with no pain?
Some people call me a miracle while others shake their heads, lower their eyes, whisper, horrible. Some laugh, give me a high five, congratulate me. I can’t believe you beat it! I don’t think cancer is an enemy that anyone beats. How can I claim to be healed? Healing doesn’t happen in one scimitar slash, one flash of lightning or revving of hands to heat. Like building a house, real healing is a process, a tao, a way sometimes so imperceptible you must hold a breath feather over its mouth to tell if it is still alive. It seldom can be accomplished by one person. It takes an orchestra of healers, a symphony composing itself and performing in multiple keys.
Early on, I realized that I needed to write in a fusion of genres to find my way through the morass. I needed to find out what healing is. Over the many months of my illness, I had written in my journals, poem fragments, poems, and prose, but they wouldn’t hold the scope of my narrative. My book started with a fusion of my narrative and my poetry, but I knew that wasn’t enough. This book was not just my book, it involved a lot of people. Just as I had called upon the help of various healers during my illness, this book had to be written in various genres.
So, I began to cross the line. I have always been interested in story. Many of my poems are long narrative poems, often giving voice to people who have no public voice in this world. Thus came my decision to interview all the healers who had helped me along the way. It seemed uncanny how many and how various were these healers who presented themselves to me during those long and tenuous months I struggled to survive. It seemed important that I tell their stories, too. Most important of all, I know that I must get this right in every way in order to help others who suffer from cancer, a disease that is wild-fire epidemic in this country.
Nearly a year into my project, my book, THE BOOK OF HEALERS HEALING, has grown organically in form and texture and voice. It contains journal entries, Face Book entries, poems, lyric prose, my personal narrative, stories of others who’ve been diagnosed with cancer as well as interviews with healers from my surgeon and oncologists at the Mayo Clinic in Phoenix to a Mexican currandera to a psychiatrist to an indigenous medicine woman to energy movers to an nurse practioner/acupuncturist to psychics and reiki practitioners. I have written the end twice, and twice the end has morphed into another story. This is the most difficult book I’ve ever written. It is also the most important. From it, I’ve learned what I learned from cancer itself, a simple lesson I keep forgetting in my life, that it is the journey that enlivens us, that ignites our creative passion. It is not the destination. I made an outline that the book outgrew, and now the book is as holistic as my treatment. I don’t know what I’m doing with this book, and that is one of its biggest strengths. If the text is willing, I will finish the first draft by the new year. I’ll then send it out to stand on its many legs and sing in its many voices to the world.
Translated into a dozen languages, her work appears in over three hundred journals and anthologies worldwide.
Uschuk has been awarded the 2011 War Poetry Prize from WINNING WRITERS, 2010 NEW MILLENIUM POETRY PRIZE, 2010 Best of the Web, Struga Poetry Prize (for a theme poem), Dorothy Daniels Writing Award from the National League of American PEN Women, and prizes from ASCENT and AMNESTY INTERNATIONAL.
Associate Professor of Creative Writing at Fort Lewis College. Editor-In-Chief of CUTTHROAT, A JOURNAL OF THE ARTS, Uschuk lives in Bayfield, Colorado and Tucson, Arizona.Uschuk was featured at the 2013 Prague Summer Programs and was the 2011 John C. Hodges Visiting Writer at UT, Knoxville.She’s working on a multi-genre book called THE BOOK OF HEALERS HEALING; A CANCER ODYSSEY.
Latest posts by Pam Uschuk (see all)
- Guest Blog Post, Pam Uschuk: WHEN A POET CROSSES THE LINE - December 7, 2013