On television, the tumor arrives; the patient grabs

                        her head and yelps.
Sometimes, vomit. Sometimes,

the doctor-protagonist is the patient. Hours matter.

Seconds matter. Never a slow plod—
body losing tone or hair
perpetually coiled around the drain.


My tumor is grade III. In third grade, I was kicked

until I saw stars. They smeared me
                        across the field.
I was their football and felt nothing.

                        I went home and saw stars.
dazzle the cathodes—the doctor knitting a skull-

cap says, There are more deserving patients; another surgeon burns

secretly for her, the dying
doctor. The drama I must play


over and over—
                        a woman performing
terse strength and a man gushing,

emotional. When my eyes doubled John in our living

room, I closed them and reclined
into a familiar dream sequence:

the doctor and surgeon marry.
John touched me,
                        asked if I were ready


for tomorrow’s radiation. I refocused.
We chose removal, I reminded him.

Days earlier, on television, the doctor
swallowed the chemicals meant to dissolve
every bit of herself.

                        Their dream-wedding appeared
and disappeared in the waiting room mist


a mind narrating a time in which it is not.
Some days, pressure. Others, seizure.

As a child, I did not see the beatings
I received as a probability. I saw my body turn

in another’s hands and concluded it was disgust.

Inside the doctor’s office,
a giant reversible whiteboard.
                        I imagined my oncologist,

as if on television, keeping tallies of the patients
she saves and the patients she doesn’t.


I squinted at the television’s mirror, and it returned

my gaze. John repositioned

                        to the darkening
corners of my eyes.

I tilted my head back. Inside me, stars
expanded through my eyes.


Late at night, taking nips of bourbon, my oncologist

stared at the two columns—alive, dead—
and felt a vague and familiar sadness.

I imagined when we discussed treatment
                        options her brain
sopped across the whiteboard

trying to find the column where my mark would reside.

Brian Clifton is the author of the chapbooks MOT (Osmanthus Press, 2019) and Agape (Osmanthus Press, 2019). They have work in Pleiades, Guernica, Cincinnati Review, Salt Hill, Colorado Review, The Journal, Beloit Poetry Journal, and other magazines. They are an avid record collector and curator of curiosities.