I walk a rise. Dig palms of gold from stiff dirt. Slide on Sand Pond next to a great lake. My daughter’s belly blossoms and the ice thickens. Far below, pockets hollow as bird bone swell. I will have a normal lifespan after all. Or I won’t. We cannot exchange indoor air. Momma Michigan’s waves freeze in motion and time outside Zion. Outside my window, icicles grow from the barren branches of a lilac. A quarrel of sparrows in the boxwoods. The hole punched through my back where the tube goes in. I will eat brown bread around a campfire with my daughter, her daughter. My avian companions survive winter on seeds hidden under the snow.
I wanted this day all winter, water chiming in the fountain, robins digging worms, our simple walk down grided streets. Even as death divides me. Notes of peony, rose, French hydrangea, tongue-pink hibiscus on the palate. Everything—the whole neighborhood—brims with warbling summer, and I’m reminded anything multiplied by zero is nothing. Your shuffle 20 steps ahead, the 300-year oaks, your outward turn to read from your device: 78 degrees, 10-mile crosswind, S&P 500 down 29 points, 26 states will outlaw abortions, my 30% chance of survival. I turn inward to last night’s dream, the equation at the center: I wanted to be a teacher of “0” but instead I was = to the multiplying, to the cisplatin silvering my teeth, because anything divided by zero is infinite.
DJ Lee is a writer, scholar, artist, and regents professor of English at Washington State University. She divides her time between Chicago, IL, Moscow, ID, and Bellingham, WA. Lee has published over forty personal essays and prose poems, the memoir Remote: Finding Home in the Bitterroots (Oregon State 2020), eight scholarly books, including The Land Speaks (Oxford 2017), and she is a scholar-fellow of the Black Earth Institute.
Her two poems here address the question: “Do We Have a Future” because they are based on her diagnosis of aggressive cancer, which forced her to confront what comes next in her own life and as well as in broader cultural movements like human rights and environmental sustainability. Lee’s poems are illustrated by a photo of a frozen snag she took on the northern shore of Lake Michigan during the 2020-21 winter, where she and her husband took long walks during the height of the pandemic. You can find her at https://debbiejlee.com