Letting Go

By on September 20th, 2012 Categories: The Breast Cancer Journey


Breastcancer.org is proud to present the work of Charlotte Matthews. Charlotte is a poet and professor and mother of two children, Emma (13) and Garland (10). Following is her poem, “Consider It Solved.”




Consider It Solved

When I set fire to the backyard
last week, I didn’t mean to.
I’d only wanted to burn up
the notebook that came with diagnosis.
I was having myself a kind of
five-year-out celebration, erasing
the odds heaped against me.
And it started out so well:
bundled smoke, tight stack
of statistics smoldering.
But here’s the thing: I didn’t move
when the papers sparked to flame,
didn’t fetch water when it splayed
into a widening circle, dry
autumnal grasses on fire.
According to Newton
the book you leave on the table,
the clothes scattered on the floor,
will still be there when you come home.
But mine was a different kind of inertia.
And though I must have backed up
in order to not get scorched, the only
thing I remember were the heavy rakes
the firefighters used after they’d doused
the flames with their hoses, how their tines
looked so dense, appallingly bright.
They seemed cartoonish, almost
bigger than the men hauling them.
On the interstate this morning,
instead of the usual mud-flap logos,
an 18-wheeler passes me imploring
that I consider it solved, and so I will because
the truck had on its running lights.
The driver was smoking a cigarette,
solemnly, as if he really meant each word
he hoped I might someday believe.

Reflection on the poem:
This story really happened. I’d come across the monolithic notebook given to me at a meeting before my mastectomy. I remember my oncologist telling me that some of the information would be so overwhelming he’d known people to throw their notebooks out right then and there in the hospital dumpster. I kept mine, occasionally referring to it when I harnessed the courage to think about facts and statistics. Most of the time I tried to hide it from myself: in my desk under stacks of bills. So the decision to get rid of it felt important, significant somehow, like graduating from one time to another. What stuns me even writing this is how paralyzed I became when the fire spread. I was as frozen as I’d felt on the day of diagnosis. Of course, I felt awkward calling the fire department, confessing what I’d done. And I carried that awkwardness with me until, driving to work one day, I found myself pardoned by a truck passing me by on the interstate.

Charlotte Matthews is author of two full length collections: Still Enough to Be Dreaming and Green Stars. Her work has recently appeared in American Poetry Review, Virginia Quarterly Review, Chautauqua, and Cave Wall. She is a professor at Hollins University and the University of Virginia. Some Saturdays she brings her 1914 Smith Corona typewriter to the farmers' markets and writes poems on the spot.


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