by Teresa Burns Murphy

Don’t say cancer.
Use leukemia instead,
or better still blood disorder.
Realize this conversation might trigger
a flashback to the pancreatic cancer
that killed her best friend’s mother.
Wait until her Macbeth rehearsals end,
the final performance finished.
Know that for the rest of her life
she will be sensitive to the word blood.
Choose a quiet place to sit—
the blue loveseat in the living room
where, whenever she left you,
she whispered, “I’ll miss you, Mom.”
Remember her joy
as a tutu-wearing toddler
twirling across the glossy hardwood,
eager to learn to dance.
Recall her preparation
as a sunny second grader,
on her way to Girl Scout camp,
sit-upon slung over one shoulder,
her protection from the damp ground.
Reflect on her determination
as a spirited middle-schooler
off to theatre class,
ready to assume a new role.
Remind yourself of her resilience
as an anxious adolescent surviving
sleepaway camp for the first time.
Wear thick, cottony clothing.
When she clings to your cachexic frame,
she will need a soft spot to rest her head,
fabric absorbent enough to hold a lifetime of tears.

Teresa Burns Murphy is the author of a novel, The Secret to Flying (TigerEye Publications). Her writing has been published in several places, including Chicago Quarterly ReviewDoubleback ReviewEvening Street ReviewGargoyle MagazineLiterary MamaThe Literary NestThe OpiateSparks of Calliope, Stirring: A Literary Collection, and The Write City Review (Volume 4). Originally from Arkansas, she currently lives in Virginia. To learn more about her writing, visit