When I saw the callout on the League of Canadian Poets website for submissions to an anthology on the experience of cancer I did not hesitate. My heart tugged back in time to losing one of my closest friends to cancer and the series of poems I wrote to help me cope with the enormous loss.
I am regretful that I did not know of Priscilla Uppal, one of the editors of this anthology, whose brainchild was to offer people, ‘new ways of seeing, understanding, and representing this ordinary and extraordinary experience.’ I was just pleased to have one of my poems accepted.
Then the anthology was published in November of 2018 but it was announced that Priscilla, at the age of 43, did not live to see its completion. Who were you Priscilla? I discover through numerous newspaper obituaries, CBC interviews, book reviews, and friends and colleagues blog posts, of your immense accomplishments and brilliance as a poet, novelist, and playwright. Your enthusiasm and optimism as professor at York University. Your generosity in supporting so many students, and the arts. Your fierce courage to not sway away from a dark subject.
It is a quote that is taken from one of these articles that stays with me. Priscilla writes, “I think a very undervalued and powerful tool is the imagination. When you’re facing something like [cancer], many people like me feel disconnected and alienated from themselves – from their bodies, from their coworkers, from their loved ones, from the world… The imagination is actually a way to repair and reconnect and heal those connections to yourself and other people.’
The imagination gives rise to the need to create, to put ones life experience into poetry or another form of artistic expression. It is at times the only thing that makes sense.
The anthology was built around Priscilla’s poem. I am saddened that my world was so remote that I did not know of her. Thank you for this ongoing gift, which I am so grateful to be a part of in my own small way.
Another Dysfunctional Cancer Poem
by Priscilla Uppal
My body and I have now entered that phase
of relationship where all the quirks and ticks
that used to tug at your heart are sources
of irritation and argument. The monotony of being
with you, day in and day out, going through the motions.
We are now that couple no one wants to
see in public, whose shopping bags hang like broken
promises. We blame each other’s childhoods and
draft unacceptable separation agreements.
The hot tears and intermittent flowers are
the worst, the notes of distant affection,
the vague plans for future holidays. I am no
longer the love of your life. I have the black
eyes to prove it. Our pleas for forgiveness
are hollow. We live for the possibility of thrashing
it all out for the umpteenth time, falling asleep
exhausted and sore, but side by side.
And amongst all of this I still miss you, my dear friend Pat.