Rodent Ulcer

by Jude Goodwin

Artwork by Yvonne Hanson

Artwork by Yvonne Hanson



Mom lifted a Player's Filter to her lips.
"If they give me good news

I'll quit. If they tell me I've only got
six more months, what's the point?"

I thought it might give her seven
more months, or eight. Reach

past Christmas and into spring,
into the garden which needed her

farmgirl hands, weeding and coaxing,
into the first trimester

of a granddaughter she'd never meet.
If they were going to tell me anything

like that, I was ready. We learn from our mothers.
The bad habits are long gone. The crawlspace

is cleaned out, boxes labelled and tucked away,
the photos are backed up in triplicate, the poems

recorded, listed, categorized. I sit in my own garden
with a glass of chardonnay and talk to the dog.

"If they give me good news, I'll keep living
just like this." I'll keep living.


"Oh yes, it's cancer."
The doctor
didn't say "Anyone
could see that."
or "You didn't actually
think it wasn't did you?"
He just studied his monitor
and scrolled
through test results.
Could have been humming.
I wouldn't have heard
because bees had settled
in my ear canals.
I counted forward
six months. February
thank God. I'll make it
past Christmas.
But what about our trip
to Ottawa in the spring?
The bees started to swarm.
They wanted spring,
hungered for it.
I took my small slip
of paper into a smoky August
afternoon and texted
the family. Rodent
ulcer. Not to worry.
In the park across the street
someone laughed.



While the doctor tied fine knots
along the incision on my forehead
I told him about my father
and the day we stood in the Caribbean Sea.
My father who once shucked oysters
and ate them raw, head thrown back
laughing, who smelled of boat fuel
and scotch, dragged crab traps
up by their bright red buoys,
the man who gave me a thumbs up
as he pulled me across the inlet
on my skinny legs, the man who skipped
along the pier and did triple
somersaults into a high green tide.
My father who stood in the blue water off Aruba
and was made frail by the sun and gentle waves,
how I waded in and stood near,
two parallel shadows
reddening in the sun,
our hands high for balance,
almost touching,
as if passing a lantern
back and forth. He giving me
all this, and I trying to give it back.



The heavy headed sunflower
is turned away,
more interesting things to watch on the roadway
than in our little yard
where two dogs press their noses
through a gate
hoping to bark

I make warning sounds in my throat
they look back at me
as one, then turn again
their fur dusted with late summer marigold.
It's been five days since I sat with my doctor

and let him put his hands
on my face, his knife.
On one of those days the sun
cast crescent shadows for two minutes
even on our arms and cheeks
A rodent moon
had gnawed its way
into the light.
No one expected to be frightened
but when the day went dark
and the birds stopped singing
we turned away, our heads down
truth, like death,
needs goggles,
or cereal boxes with pinholes
Someone offered me a piece of obsidian.
The sunflower does not actually follow the sun

turning its flat face to track the day
and I don't anymore, either.
My heliotropic days are over.


Jude Goodwin is currently pursuing a degree in Creative Writing with Douglas College, BC, Canada. She lives in the BC Lower Mainland with her wife, two stepkids, three daughters and 6 grandkids. Her first book of poems, The Night Before Snow, is due out this fall.

Jude's poem, “Rodent Ulcer” won first place in the Interboard Poetry Competition in September 2017 where she was representing The Waters Poetry Workshop.