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

he sees.


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.