for the Ten Days

Madeleine Mysko

We say goodbye, her hand goes up (but not
in time to catch me), then the breach: I kiss
my mother on the cheek. Oops, I say,
you’d better wash your face. We laugh, of course–
that’s the better way to make it through
the chemotherapeutic calendar.
But it’s no joke. Her white cell count is low.
I see my mother back away from me.

I’m treacherous. I’ve not observed the Ten
Solemn Days of Abstinence. Oh what 
to do but put a finger to the lips, 
and teach the mouth never to kiss, never 
to take a breath, or utter Mother, while
stepping lightly past your door, O Death.

About the poet:

Madeleine Mysko is a registered nurse and a graduate of The Writing Seminars of the Johns Hopkins University. She serves as coordinator of the “Reflections” column for The American Journal of Nursing. Her novel Bringing Vincent Home is based on her experiences as an Army nurse stateside during the Vietnam War. Her poetry and fiction appear widely in literary journals, and her nonfiction has appeared in The Baltimore Sun and The American Journal of Nursing

About the poem:

“In the octave of this unrhymed Petrarchan sonnet, I confess exactly what happened on my mother’s front porch one day during her chemotherapy. In the sestet, I try to capture the anguish over my carelessness: I had exposed her to infection with a kiss. It happened many years ago. My mother survived her breast cancer and lived to the age of ninety.”

Poetry editors:

Judy Schaefer and Johanna Shapiro

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