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Thursday 13 December 2012


Consider if you will 
the way an image or a word
can hold a strong emotive charge
(and what the physicists call spin).
As such, it's not susceptible to reason,
ducks beneath the flailing arms of logic.

A word is just an abstract sign? That's all?
Believe that at your peril, it's a Trojan Horse.
For good or ill, your landscape's under threat.
Take  cancer for example, how it is
two hundred different illnesses,
two hundred different entities.
One word to vouch for all.
Think how they use this umbrella word we've given them
to creep up incognito in disguise --
a kind of burlesque to confuse us in the night.

Some ancient narratives
folk tales and myth
are interwoven here.
These are the bases of its reputation,
the raw material of its powerful charge.
And so we ask: how best to counteract its ill effects,
the wills- o'- the-wisp that reason cannot touch?

I've heard of patients giving sexy names
to what at first they found unspeakable,
Sugar Daddy Baby being one.
She found him more acceptable that way.
Familiar handle, trivial terms
killing it with friendliness.

I knew a man who had Tallulah Bankhead in his groin.

How could a man feel bad about a thing like that?

Just recently, I've been impressed --
I should say blown away --
by images of cancers on the walls where patients wait.
Stunning, complex forms, more succulent than fruits,
like fractals drawn in five dimensions.
Serious, seductive, natural works of art -- the colouring
a function of laboratory staining,
admittedly, not fundamental to the form 
(but then what colour ever is?). And so
the thought occurs: is this not clue or cue
for some aesthetic therapy? These powerful images
have the same kinds of force fields as the enemy...

They would be shallow craft, I know,
not to be launched in heavy seas, but when the waves are calm,
could they not use their charge to neutralise the foe's?
 There must be some new way beneath those flailing arms...


Elephant's Child said...

If it works - do it. Art has proven its healing powers for a ranges of illnesses including cancer, parkinson's disease and psychophrenia. For some, keeping a journal is a powerful tool. For others denial (not just a river in Egypt) is their salve of choice. Thinking positive, change of diet, increased exercise - I think the supports are as individual as the people who need them.

kaykuala said...

The big C is frightening even thinking about it. Putting handles will certainly reduce the intensity. It can be menacingly friendly in another form. Great thoughts Dave!


Brian Miller said...

man, intriguing post dave...can you sexy up something like cancer? can the pictures of the cells be beautiful enough to be art when it kills so many, does putting a different name make it liveable...i dunno man but you really made me think about it...

Anonymous said...

Yes, agree with Brian. And found the aesthetic approach intriguing. There is no doubt that a different reception. May be useful-- even if only to make a self -peace.

Mary said...

I will second what Brian has already said, Dave!

Jim Murdoch said...

This reminds me of something the playwright Dennis Potter said, ““…I call my cancer, the main one [in] the pancreas, ‘Rupert’, so I can get close to it because that man Murdoch… there is no one person more responsible for the pollution of what was already a fairly polluted press.”

I related very strongly to this. I’m rediting/revising/reworking (really not sure what the right word for it is) my short story collection and one of the things that crops up a few times throughout the stories is how useless words are in fact one of the characters spends his entire time on the page going on about the word ‘home’.

Loved the Tallulah Bankhead line.

Arron Shilling said...

Hi Dave,

i like the angle. and i wish i had read it, or thought about it, in this way but before now. i dont know if it is because of my culture or my nature but i tend to just not speak aloud those words that are hardest to say aloud and an approach of this kind would have been useful before the silence came.

thanks Dave

Daydreamertoo said...

I read somewhere once that Big John (Wayne)could never say Cancer. He would always say the 'C' word. I guess it's how we each can deal with potentially life threatening illness.
I suppose the only way to handle it is with a positive mental attitude and, most people would go with whatever they feel makes them worry less, maybe.
Very serious but, interesting topic how you've written it Dave.

Tommaso Gervasutti said...

Engaging as ever, and this line, in particular superb, epitomising human condition

the wills- o'- the-wisp that reason cannot touch?

Very Shakespearian too.

A Cuban In London said...

What a clever poem. The way you describe our insecurities when it comes to facing up to the big C (or any other illness for that matter) is superb. Many thanks.

Greetings from London.

Titus said...

Really liked this Dave, particularly the moderation of the thought as it's developed, and that isolating of the Tallulah Bankhead line.

Mortified to say it was not 'The C Word' I expected, so a little surprised when I got to line 10. Shudder to think what that says about me.

Cloudia said...

ah those flailing arms of reason-

just excellent!

Warm Aloha from Honolulu
Comfort Spiral
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Dave King said...

Hi, just some general remarks, then packing it in for today - suffering from a chest infection.

There did seem to be a lot of concurrence on this, which I hadn't quite expected, but greatly appreciated. Brian came up with what had been my initial response when I saw those images in the hospital waiting room. A large room, say small hall size, and they were side by side round two sidea and a bit. I don't have the words to tell you just how stunning they were. I think I have never seen a more truly beautiful set of images of that size anywhere. And I thought, No, you can't just put them uup in front of patients who may have the disease. Hank, too, picks p the point of handles reducing fear.
Interesting reference by Jim to Dennis Potter. Thanks for that. And Aaron too talks of being able to speak of what could not have been spoken about.

Thank you all. Most grateful.
And to Faysal, Jose and Arron: a warm welcome. Hope to see you again.

Unknown said...

I, too, have seen those vivid photos, some of them colored by chemical markers or other such stuff. I find them beautiful; and I am reminded that cancer cells are simply our own cells misguided. They are not invaders or outside forces. They are inherent to our being, failing to follow orders. I see their beauty while wanting them to obey the dog-gone rules!

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