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Friday, March 30, 2007


by George Held

John Wayne called it, knowing
He’d smoked too many coffin nails
But still believing he could fight it,
Like an Apache, to the death.

Today doctors and statistics confirm
When The Big C has reached
The lungs or liver, it won’t be
Long till it causes death.

This is a tough concept
For a nation at war
With the truth about death,
A nation that hides the coffins

Coming home from Iraq ,
That cancels plays and censors
Stories and photos that would bring
Home the truth of death

As though what’s natural and real
Was more frightening than horror
Movies in which the most grisly
Kinds of death occur over and over.

In Wayne ’s day euphemism was rank,
“A long illness” subbing for “colon c-----”
When Frank’s father lay silent as a tumor,
On morphine in his death bed,

His illness a word barely whispered
As if it could spread by word
Of mouth. Now The Big C fills
Headlines as it kills both a candidate’s

Wife and one of the President’s men,
Just as—say it!—cancer killed my mother.
She learned we all die alone, just as we
Must learn to face that death-sentence life.

George Held contributes regularly to The New Verse News. He lives in Greenwich Village, brooding on war, disease, and aging.