In Response to a Promotional Ad Claiming That the Number of People Who Have Survived Cancer Could Now Fill the City of Los Angeles
And the nonsurvivors fill the Pacific Ocean,
the Grand Canyon, and the whole of Antarctica.
They fill our silences. And they fill our mouths
when we try to speak. They inhabit vast and
magnificent cities. The nonsurvivors remember
Los Angeles as just a dot on the map—a stone’s
throw in the sticks where everybody knew each
other’s business. And then there is the wife
of the man in Illinois: he’s been walking
the streets for thirty years because the space
of her body fills every living room of every house
Walk along the banks of the Grand Calumet, walk
to Ground Zero, Nevada, go down to Oak Ridge,
Tennessee. Point out to folks that no one can sleep
in Los Angeles: the breastless, hairless ones always
scratching at the city walls, howling at the gates
all night. Everybody wants to be an angel.
The dead are smaller than us. We have to remember
that. The dead take up so little room. Their
houses are modest, they drive small cars.
They’ve stopped dreaming of going West.
You called this morning to say a new tumor had
flowered in your liver and another in a small coil
of the intestine. I murmured something, promised
to make a few phone calls. I hardly know you
actually. But I had mentioned once that I was a
resident of that lucky city. Sweet California.
From the book, Post-Diagnosis (Ithaca, New York: Firebrand Books, 1995).
Copyright © 1995 by Sandra Steingraber.