Coming to Terms by Susan Sample

I’m heading home.

I’m reading “situations of vertiginous vulnerability” penned by a woman with ovarian cancer.

I’m highlighting in pencil: “...reading isn’t the opposite of doing; it’s the opposite of dying.”

I’m seated in the emergency exit row.

“…words will tell you things you never thought or felt before”

I’m balancing a yellow pad on my lap, scanning the sky between lines: need copy of power of medical attorney, call re: commode, Citibank, cost of single room, cemetery.

Only haze as we ascend. For days, fires have been burning to the north and south.

I want the blue of cruising altitude.

The second day of my visit, I wore a blouse intense as a desert’s cloudless sky. “That’s blue” was all my dad said.

I’m still worrying the image of him from the day before: dressed completely in shades of brown—an unfamiliar shirt of autumn plaid, dark slacks, belt, socks, and slip-on shoes.

Brown is opposite blue on the wheel of complementary colors. Complementary brings perfection, I read once. Paint a disc in equal parts with complementary colors, rotate it rapidly, and it will transform into whitish light.

“I’m in a fragile place,” my dad said when I asked, tentatively—

The warning on the wing outside my window: “Do Not Step.”

–I couldn’t say it. He nodded to anxious and uncertainty when I offered possibilities, then added, “I’m glad you visited.”

I’m the one leaving. I’m the one passing.

I wonder about the ethics of euphemisms; the etymology of provisional? When does the future replace the time being?

I’m leaning forward, trying one last time to glimpse the Pacific, just a patch to remember, to place over my mind’s eye when the plane inevitably turns inland.

All I can make out is the coastline. Not the rich denseness of earth, the unfathomable depth of water; just miles and miles of violent surf, exquisitely, sublimely white.
Susan Sample is the Writer-in-Residence at the Huntsman Cancer Institute, University of Utah. She is also a faculty member of the medical school’s Division of Medical Ethics and Humanities where she teaches reflective writing. She has an MFA in creative writing from the University of Arizona and a PhD focusing on narrative and medicine from the University of Utah. Her poetry has been published in journals including Crab Creek Review, The Sow’s Ear, The Healing Muse, and Intima: A Journal of Narrative Medicine. A collection of her poems, Terrible Grace, was published by Finishing Line in 2011; it won first-place in the Utah Arts Council writing competition.