Home About Us Features Write Now! Submit Resources

Sestina For Turning Forty

by Joshua Gray

My big day barely over, my body 
believed I should act my age. 
I stared at the mushroomed mole
resting below my toes. It stung. It itched.
After my biopsy, the pain kicked in.
Restful nights lost their way.
Melanoma wandered through the entranceway
of my stressed-out and worn-down body,
found a warm cozy place, and settled in.
I thanked the sky for the modern age
of medicine; even as each day passed, I itched
for a time when no one spoke of the mole.
But my friends, they only discussed the mole.
Of course, I learned the best way
to play the game was to beat every itch
I had to stay still when the doorbell rang. Everybody
had my back, after all. Perhaps my age
created this reclusive stage I was in.
Three summers of family cares and cancer was in:
pancreas, breast, and now skin. Who was the mole
hiding within, and at what young age
does a crook's life begin? Jokes were the way
to lighten my mood -- my body,
though bruised, retained a joyful itch.
The staples from my surgery started to itch.
My back was sore from the hard bed I was in.
The best times meant friends -- the worst, nobody.
I laughed alone in the darkness of moles.
The hospital food was horrendous  -- no curds and whey
for me. Nutrition and medicine have their separate ages.
When I finally went home, a well-aged
wine was opened. I itched
for the outdoors, a good way
to feel whole again. But I stayed in;
I was too broken.  I didn't search for moles.
I claimed my own skin. It was mine. It was my body.
That's the way my forties began. I was in
over my head. One itch led to another. One mole made me insane.
I only have one body, after all, and it changes with age.

Joshua Gray was originally diagnosed with Melanoma in 2010, when he wrote "Sestina for Turning Forty," with a recurrence in 2014 that brought him back to the United States to get treatment after spending two years in India. His fourth book Steel Cut Oats was published by Red Dashboard Press (2015).