Chapter 16
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“The holiday / of catastrophe …”

Book Excerpt: Our Cancers

The holiday / of catastrophe …


The holiday
of catastrophe
with friends

from crestfallen
adulthoods re-

to say love
you maybe for
the first or

last time with
such bounded cheer
Their bouquets

already sweetly
decaying She sobs

into the pulse
in my neck when
they are gone The young

invite our envy
as the old
deserve it like

her mother resting
in our vacant
marriage bed and

her father hiding
behind veils
of cigar smoke while

the babe leaps
barefoot stone
to stone



What else
can the babe

as she fondles
the bubo
of my port

asking When
will it heal

Away away
she used to sing
as I strolled her

beneath the moon
home to bath
and sleep

Shoulder of snow
ringlet wound
round my finger

I will give all
to keep her



In the vision
our child is
a woman

gazing across
a cozy table
at me

some locale
holy to us
like Carmel

sometime sleepy
like mid-
afternoon in this

courtyard with leaves
glinting the season
shouldn’t matter

but it does
matter that
I am being

looked after
with quizzical
aggravation and

I am certain
I am pleased

she contains
our features

her hair like
her mother’s
copper curling

like my hair
used to like
our allusive

foundering on
the mundane

Her mother
with any luck is
running late

Our daughter
wears a dress of
Marian blue

a healer
from birth
she is why

we are here
simply sharing
a meal

“The holiday / of catastrophe …”

©2021 by Dan O’Brien. Excerpted from Our Cancers (Acre Books). Reprinted with permission. All rights reserved. Dan O’Brien is the author of three previous poetry collections and the recipient of many playwriting honors, including a Guggenheim Fellowship and two PEN America Awards. His essay collection A Story That Happens: On Playwriting, Childhood, & Other Traumas was published in 2021. He has served on the faculty of the Sewanee Writers’ Conference for more than a decade.

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