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Issue 4.1 

Winter 2024
4.1 Donna

Donna Isaac


Though I hesitated in writing poetry focused on a cancer diagnosis, the specter of it, the time it consumes, the immersion in it, its indefatigable presence overwhelms. This poem represent a lack of control with mixed and inevitable choices. It focuses on language—oxymoronic and symbolicjuxtaposing words to evoke a feeling of unfeeling, numbness in the face of overwhelming forces. Cancer chooses for you the course of action or inaction, your body "formulated, sprawling on a pin/...pinned and wriggling on the wall" (T.S. Eliot). 


Every night now I think of 1 darkness like stygian gloom 2 the white horse of death 3 snowy cottonwood 

because of what

1 threads through filigreed shadows 2 carpets the ceiling with dread 3 uplifts me into clouds.

It was an elusive webbing

that crept in, showed up 1 like golden bells of consecration 2 in a late-night reverie 3 monsters in cupboards.


The days jolted by. Water wagons

of phlegmatic, sanguine rivers

1 dammed by sadness 2 fed by tears 3 unstopped, unchecked.

Summer was no more.


I am not a girl in the mirror

but 1 a bone of pain 2 a sliver of shell 3 a farrago of fearful hope

something upon a marble slab of experiment

1 poked with poisonous darts 2 pieced like a quilted star 3 shaking like a besieged city,

a montage to make whole again.

The 1 moon eclipses 2 red sky screams 3 mourning dove pleats air.

I await a dawn of 1 toxicity 2 ethereal light 3 beams

distracted by a massage of possibility.


There is no choice but

1 a green desire 2 gelid fear 3 petals of purple iris

until decision drops

and shields the intensity

of 1 gamma rays 2 cross-stitched wounds 3 a hurled firebolt.


Drought has begun.


I await 1 squash blossoms of gold 2 a blessing of dragonflies 3 a sea breeze.

though eldritch conspirators, heads together,

undo much of the 1 done 2 good 3 known.

The unknown, a jolt like speed.

Poet Donna Isaac is a teaching artist/organizer of community literary events through the League of MN Poets. She has a B.A.  (James Madison University); an M.A. (University of Minnesota); and an M.F.A. (Hamline University.)  A new book of poems by Finishing Press, In the Tilling, is forthcoming.

Donna's Book Recommendations

During this time of ongoing treatments, I am re-reading or reading for the first time the collected works of William Shakespeare. There is no greater poet, the language, so rich. I also read Blended Voices: Blending the Voices of Virginia Poets, a collection by the Poetry Society of VA in which poets wrote their own works, meshing in the exact words from four famous poets, producing surprising harmonies of old and new lines. 

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