ISSN 1556-4975

OffCourse Literary Journal

 Published by Ricardo and Isabel Nirenberg since 1998


"Dancing in the Cancer Ward," by Janet Buck


                  In Loving Memory of Warner Fuller (1902-1957) & Florence Fuller (1904-1994)


I see you twitching on a cot beside his bed,
your mattress thin as pita rounds—
bet your back remembers every lump and wire.
Jesus on a wooden cross flanks the walls,
and this is it for scenery.
Your fingers are entwined with his—
puddles of warm candlewax
around a quickly burning wick.
How do you waltz
with four legs & an IV stand?




Ask my aunt. She’d tell you,
“It takes paper tape, swift finesse,
overtures of hearts so close there are no ribs.”




Nurses say, “Go home & rest.”
You stay three months—
until they roll the zippered body bag away—
gurney wheels screeching like four burning tires.
Then you swipe the sheets to keep his scent—
“Je t’aime” you whisper through the starch.
When no one’s looking, you are in his terry slippers
stuffed with downy cotton balls to make them fit.
If he had MRSA, I would see you touching him
without a pair of rubber gloves—licking
every pore to get the germ—
share a double bed with him
sleeping on another train.




The snake is in the jar—still rattling—
been doing it for seven decades now.
You passed the longing on to me. 
It’s not a snake I’d find
behind a stone—of course—
it’s boundless love still making noise.


Author’s note:

I have waited for decades for this poem to come to me. It’s a tribute to a couple whose bond could never be split, in real life or memory. Over tumblers of gin in her hand, sitting on her patio, my Aunt Florence cried for decades over the loss of a great, great man.

Warner Fuller was a corporation lawyer for the St. Louis Railroad, one who fought to bring milk to the tables of poorly paid workers with crops of children in their homes. He worked late at night, seven days a week, when my aunt was begging for “together time.” He promised her he would retire at 55, they would build a villa in Mexico, and travel the world six months out of the year. Warner died of stomach cancer the year he turned 55.

Florence begged for death to be with him. I was barely a year old and became the child she could never have. For 20 plus years, I have mourned her death, but I have always wanted to capture the seeds of their unending devotion. Uncle Warner’s picture and a short list of his many accomplishments was published in The New York Times three days after his death. I found it in the archives just days ago and urgently penned this poem.


Janet Buck is a seven-time Pushcart Nominee & the author of four full-length collections of poetry. Buck's most recent work is featured in The Birmingham Arts Journal, Antiphon, Offcourse, PoetryBay, Poetrysuperhighway, Abramelin, Misfit Magazine, Lavender Wolves, River Babble, The Danforth Review & other journals worldwide. Her latest print collection of verse, Dirty Laundry, is currently available at all fine bookstores. Buck’s debut novel, Samantha Stone: A Novel of Mystery, Memoir & Romance, was released by Vine Leaves Press in September, 2016. Janet lives & writes in Southern Oregon—just hours away from Crater Lake, one of the seven wonders of the world.

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