Literature Annotations

St. Andrews, B. A. (Bonnie)
Oncological Cocktails

Genre Poem
KeywordsCancer, Death and Dying, Hospitalization, Survival, Technology
SummaryTwo metaphors permeate this poem about drinking a barium containing liquid prior to fluoroscopy to determine cancer growth and staging. The first metaphor involves the liquid as alcohol and the radiology suite as a rather perverse bar. Hence the patient drinks the proffered liquid which "froths and hisses like volcanic vodka / or martinis by Dr. Hyde." The second metaphor is 'cancer is war.' The body is seen as a battleground in which the "army of metastasizing cells / advances, armed and dangerous." The patient realizes that medical interventions are allies in this fight, but drinks the barium "as Socrates / must have: one eye on the door."
CommentaryThis poem would be an interesting companion to Susan Sontag's Illness as Metaphor (see this database). The word choice is powerful in the poem, reflecting the strong emotions that occur with a cancer diagnosis. The poem, arranged as a series of two line stanzas has one rhymed couplet, which is the only set with full stop punctuation at the end of each line. This couplet refers to the interaction between patient and radiology technician and ends: "We do not speak of cancer." What is left unsaid in that exchange is most dramatically said in the poem.
SourceThe Healing Muse
PublisherSilverman Review Press
Place PublishedSyracuse, N.Y.
Alternate SourceJ. General Internal Medicine
Alternate Edition13/8: 574 (1998)
Annotated by Shafer, Audrey
Date of Entry 09/18/01
Last Revised 11/01/01