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Laura Gamache

On Writing the Eeva Kilpi Poems

When my husband Jim went through surgery, chemo and radiation treatment for Stage III squamous cell carcinoma metastasized from his left tonsil to his lymph nodes, we listened hard to try to understand medical terminology, as though learning that language could save his life.

In my stash of transliteration resources for poetry workshops I have the book, Min Kärleks Höga Visa, by a Scandinavian poet named Eeva Kilpi. I don't comprehend whatever language the poems are written in, but her work is very important to me. By focusing on each word sound in an Eeva Kilpi poem, I constructed my own poem in English. This process allowed me to focus away from what Jim and I were going through, which gave me an opening to write about it. This attempting to make meaning from what I did not understand was very like going through the process of cancer treatment, where comprehension and outcome were highly limited, but still there.

And Jim survives.


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Steakhouse truth: some are hungry.
Takers jaw summer food,
pass the mass of ziti,
yes sir, dine boldly, untidily,
suck on their frankfurters even,
sated by edible contentment,
sweaty visages glowing.
Men make sly digs at quasi-porkers,
stare like oily ganders thrumming.

Fork and knife stallers, we hermits fake,
erect our coals, spurt on our mustard
and expound fake relish,
lick fingers we had forgotten.

So help me, we did feed,
left him, made masquerade. He
stirred, tipped us into panic.


Laugh off acceptance as a game of cards,
the fullest cares, fetid cars, Look! The fanciest garlic!
Your illness calls us careless. Oh, the ensuing cards –
we are so ready for them.

Who cares? Glamour's din hands us din,
bear with me. Our jobs glimmer with carrots,
our debt standing there nagging, it vanishes,

Minor bursts, a tumult of plates, hell on them,
carry fog for days, ensure pure demand
of all our dull meetings, tooters tooting
till we toot your dirge?

Another mind will burst at supper time.
Men are utterly placid beasts
bare-assed mid-lap-dance –
jaws thrust out like dogs'.

Oust spring cleaners' performance,
starry October in wanton pain. Blunt
ether blues kinder days for mental duress.
camp out, chew berries.

Hard reckoning has found us.
We dine on rancor,
that minor furor.


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Trapped head hand sign:
you fasten that by the jugular,
force one slack spring till that icon hooks there,
lines up back of his head,
hurt plucked out by handfuls.
Smile for will, Daddy, you're covered
in your hand-held helmet.

Batter up till you're it.
We adjust magnets fast for sick times,
make fog or suffer,
new gaiety is up to us,
off-hand, far from sinking.


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For never-ending horning-in,
for further biographying,
some hurts part hair off heads,
broke-down ticking bombs.

Forget all stirrings, stand
forward with wagons when
our ache for blurring's done.
Enzymes rile errors up our bacon,
part our enthrallment roast.

Venom or garnets vicious
with sin, that old complex,
salsa spread debtor! Precious,
someone finds we curry death.


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I'm half-broken and needing
neck rubs, popper snacks –
Duchess Jaguar range-shorted,
sick of this, sag-jawed,
all stamina evicted.
Perspective? Oh, God,
I hope we disembark decently
for it's all gone black,
our Jack's totaled.
Free us, Park & Ride,
for I scream high,
an ogre deadening forests.
Fiery stumps fall together
from my thunder.
Man is gorgon,
sump cavern android,
hodge-podge thankless prat,
engine jumper nagging,
and envy barely literate.
We are electric motors
in dry dock, floundering far,
at fault. I've been outcast,
out further, rock-weary breather.


Somewhere bleak, debt till nothing's left but cancer.
Quibbles adjust to a vague cost in one hand.
Take hands to pay grass-straw-like signal fire atoms
seeking midair's lurid banners. Men and rakes add commas.
Game end, pay Manon. Hand fake, swim loofa,
hardened ox, a former hula debt fireman.

Swarovskis gleam.

Men at jobs bypass fabric, old women sit hemming outside.
Matter has plastic cards. Quiver for an earning.
Pucker your gigs. Those men in Hades sacrificed, sat sins,
wandered home to hotels, befuddled, sighed like angels.

Planet nags on.

Inhale, relent, say I barely feel something.
Don't slump, dammit. Take a handle, sir.

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