It must have come in a hurry
on a ship of pain, breaching
the weak seawall of her lungs.
The tumor, split from its moorings, set adrift.
She must have felt that shudder
in her final minutes, listing as she ran
for her hospice papers–
all she had of a last command.
Captain of her body, she thought only
of us she’d carried
years before to this shore,
as her lungs flooded and she sank
down on that bed that settles all of us–
cold, dark, without human touch
and beyond recovery.

Joan Baranow is the author of the poetry books In the Next Life and Living Apart and two poetry chapbooks. Her poems have appeared in JAMA, The Paris Review, The Gettysburg Review, Poetry East and elsewhere. She founded and teaches in the low-residency MFA program in creative writing at Dominican University of California. With her physician husband David Watts she produced the PBS documentary Healing Words: Poetry & Medicine. Her feature-length documentary The Time We Have presents an intimate portrait of a teenager facing terminal illness.

About the Poem

“My mother died, alone, of a pulmonary embolism brought on by metastatic cervical cancer. I imagine the surprise she must have felt in those moments, knowing that she was dying very quickly. In this poem I imagine my mother as captain of a magnificent sinking ship, wanting only to rescue us.”


9 thoughts on “Wreckage”

  1. Where can I view “The Time We Have”? I saw the trailer on Vimeo and would love to see the full-length film.

    1. The Time We Have is currently making the festival rounds and so unfortunately I can’t have it available for viewing online for the next 6 months or so. Please check back in the fall (or if you have a Blu-ray player I can send you a disc). In the meantime, our PBS film, Healing Words: Poetry & Medicine, can be viewed on my Vimeo site. I’m sure you’d like it. Thank you for your interest!

  2. Oh Joan, what an unexpected and powerful metaphor. I had to stop to catch my breath before reading it a second time. You don’t try to calm the sea or steer the ship to some welcoming shore. You let us struggle with the story as you no doubt did in deciding how to tell it.

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