Pris Campbell

His heart
is a battlefield
of scar tissue
and hardened walls
from radiation.
So certain the tumor
in his throat would take him
to his knees, wrench his life away,
they brought forth
the beast…that fairy tale
of modern medicine
gone wrong…and now

I want to call him,
tell him goodbye,
say it was good
part of the time
it lasted, but his wife,
he tells his brother,
is uneasy with me
and so my first husband
will soon slip into the water
of time with no lei floating
from me, no Navy band
on Pearl Harbor’s dock,
like when he came back
to me from Vietnam.

About the poet:

Pris Campbell’s poetry has appeared in journals and anthologies such as PoetsArtists, Chiron Review, Outlaw Poetry Network and Boxcar Poetry Review. She has published seven collections of her poetry, six with the small press and one, a collaboration, with Clemson University Digital Press. A former clinical psychologist and avid sailor, she was sidelined in 1990 by myalgic encephalomyelitis/chronic fatigue syndrome, leaving her mostly housebound and too weak and dizzy to continue working. Resurrecting a childhood desire to write, she began writing poetry. She lives in southeastern Florida with her husband of thirty-five years.

About the poem:

“My first husband and I married after his first tour of duty as a junior Navy officer in Vietnam. Being in love with someone at war creates bonds that don’t easily fade. Even though our marriage didn’t work out, we stayed in touch over the years. When he wrote me that he had developed esophageal cancer, requiring radiation, then an operation, I still hoped that he would beat it. I received one vague final email before his brother wrote that the radiation had damaged his heart valves. He had surgery to repair the valves and valiantly struggled to regain his strength through physical therapy, but died a few months later. I had no way to tell him goodbye. This broke my heart. The poem expresses my grief.”

Poetry editors:

Johanna Shapiro and Judy Schaefer

Call for Entries​

Pulse Writing Contest​​

"On Being Different"

About the Poem


11 thoughts on “Battlefield”

  1. Pris,

    I enjoyed finding this poem. You certainly have created the essence of cancer and emotions that surround it. I will never forget my experience and Stephen.

  2. Russell H. Ragsdale

    So good Pris! In the elements of his story is found why you grieve so and that in turn makes us join you in your grief in the only way left to us which is empathy. Circuitously you take our hearts and lay them on the water like ghostly leis for all veterans. Thanks for sharing this.

  3. The battle scars of war echo across decades and for some the grief remains palpable years later. Thank you, Pris, for writing so powerfully about that grief. If I had to guess, I would say it is likely your first husband knew what was and is in your heart even without your words. Peace.

  4. Thank you all for the comments, Yes, this was an emotional time for me. Saying goodbye at least puts some closure on things and I miss having that so much. Thank you, Pulse for publishing this.

  5. Wow, what a beautiful, poignant poem. When I was a Hospice Nurse I tried to encourage families to open their hearts to everyone who wanted/needed to say goodbye. But not everyone can do that. I am so happy you found a way with such love, to say your farewell and share it. I am so sorry for your own suffering. Congratulations on using poetry to continue to make your life bearable — and wonderful!

  6. Wow, this got me right in my gut. I’m so sorry you were unable to tell him goodbye. And thank you for sharing this story, this poem.

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