1st Poet Laureate of Pleasanton, Calif.
                     1999-2001

MENTOR MEMORIUM

Charlene Villella 

 

   1/16/1944-4/6/2005

Charlene Villella loved nature, flora and fauna. She wrote most of her poetry covering these topics. Her teaching skills were extraordinary, teamed with patience and an intuitive nuance in finding just the right way of working with each individual.

 

She became my friend and then my mentor as she patiently showed me my path ahead. Nudging and supporting as I grew more competent and schooled in the craft of poetry.

 

When she became ill with breast cancer, our roles reversed somewhat, as I became her driver, hand to hold, and confessor during radiation, chemo and double mastectomy. 

 

This page is for me to honor my mentor Charlene and all the love she taught.  

Grass and Flowers
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I am not sure at what point in our relationship I read her poems and came across White Silk but finding out how much we had in common really opened me up to her. It had much to do with how far we were able to travel together and share deadly secrets.

 

I went on to pen several poems for Charlene and to work through the stress and anxiety we experienced while she was experiencing the demon that would that would take her down and rob me of my friend.  CLB 

Mentor

 

Not unlike the newly departed

pulled along a tunnel

coming upon yesteryear’s gifted friend

hardly recognizable

in the blur of afterlife hurrah

A near perfect parallel

mimics the moment we met

 

You

unremembered acquaintance

extended your hands

an invitation to the inner circle

People that I didn’t yet recognize

whose minds move at the same

syncopated time as my own

 

Too timid I let them linger long

while fear’s grip

held me motionless

almost a year afterward

an aftermath of first public speak

 

And how you were there waiting

teacher

to open the door

hands extended once more

when the student was ready

Ebb

 

Grief - a tsunami that rides the night

like cancer rages through her body

deftly dragging down hope

cell by cell by organ

the undertow grabs

pulls her out to sea 

holds the maligned body under

while the weight of dark water

shakes loose

that which must go on

from what in time

will wash ashore

drenched in our tears

that which must go on

Char

 

I wasn’t prepared to lose you

or deal with the hollow

where once you rooted

 

I dealt with the ravenous disease

that stalked inside under shadow

threatened to devour you whole

 

I came to terms with the cure

that waged great war

on your battle-fatigued frame

 

Witnessed salt and pepper tresses

lift out by the handfuls

leaving nothing but tufts of fuzz

 

When you wore shingles

like the roof of a worn out firehouse

head to toe on your left side

 

When your mouth and gums

swollen with pus

withered your pride

 

Stood by after every session

as they shot you full of pain

to heighten your white cell count

 

All through the cancer

its cure

the fix from the cure

and the side effects from that

loss of you loomed large

 

  but not once did I imagine

     you would move away

White Silk

I loved my grandma's hair

long white strands of silk

Braided, coiled around and

around on top of her head

Undone it fell well below her knees

i used to unbraid then brush

it until small sparks flew and she

spoke the words I dreaded to hear.

"that's enough, go bathe,

Grandpa will tuck you in"

I hated him to tuck me in

he'd do things

then make me promise not to tell

'cause if i did it would kill my Grandma

I always dreamt that I had told,

I'd rush into the kitchen every morning

to see if Grandma was dead

But she never was,

'cause i never told

until now

(c) 1994 Charlene Villella

Mastectomy 

 

All week

I find myself caressing breasts

as if to comfort 

with a false sense of ownership

Knowing all the while tomorrow will dawn 

with deadpan certainty

 

The peace of untried morning

broken in the shell 

before it can hatch into possibility

When warm wonderful heave

of womanhood

becomes Property of Science 

 

  

 

 

 

Sojourn

  

1.

 

We traded breasts last night

passed them between us

like schoolgirls 

trying on each others clothes

no words spoken

only a familiar glance

 

I wanted to know

what she was going through

not as a voyeur 

or passive resistor

but as a card carrying member

dues paid 

 

I wanted to feel the white-hot shock

of finding the lump

   “Big as a baseball!” she said

   “Oh my God, No!” I said

   “In both breasts!” the doctor said

 

-- in both breasts!

 

2.

As the second treatment begins

she is seated on a Naugahyde throne

reclines into its safety

removes her crown of the day

the bright red straw one 

where the flower garden grows

 

Early warning does little to prepare me

for the once familiar head 

sparsely covered with tufts of fine gray 

that reminds me of an old teddy bear 

I once carried until it fell into disrepair

 

 Amidst banter between girlfriends  

nurses who witness similar battles daily

maneuver through the room

weaving magic with wisecracks

weapons of mass destruction 

ready to explain procedure    process

cheer the beleaguered battleground

whenever possible

 

It is then I am aware

that more than being her friend

I am here to witness the war

Her face grows dark

teeth clench as armies are deposited

into the port embedded in sensitive skin

The heat of battle follows the soldiers

leaves her body all ashiver

a blanket and portable heater comfort

 

I have long since returned the breasts      

fitting them back into perspective

Visualize the coalition of meds 

like vermin-eating robots that march 

then munch indiscriminately

search tirelessly 

for overbred cockroach cells

that defile with decay 

the once supple breasts of my mentor

Attack       Attack!

Roll Call


They sit in beige Naugahyde chairs
like ladies under dryers
at a neighborhood beauty salon
Cancer patients all in a row
with their backs
against floor-to-ceiling windows
on third floor Oncology  

Each individual hope silently cleaves  
  to the brightly colored poison
inserted into purple vein
that promises for some
their best chance
at a few more years

He lurks, a scary two-feet high,
outside the window
wrapped in his dark feathered shroud
The turkey vulture
intent darting eyes
encased in giddy red flesh

He worries the ledge back and forth
his bone-white beak
taps a beat on the glass
shopping for lunch

 

Comes to rest behind my friend


Cynthia L Bryant
 

Up Against a Brick Wall

 

Never have you come up against that which you could not

   tough out    out stubborn 

like a new bottle of catsup 

hung upside-down in anticipation

hit on its bottom 

shake it   shake it   shake it

it doesn’t budge

you wait and wait

shove a butter knife up inside

watch it drain loose

 

Death

does not retreat

lets you wrestle with her 

until in sheer exhaustion

you see her face 

take your last half breath 

then separate from your container

poured forth

as Death sighs in relief

 

©2005 Cynthia L. Bryant

After the Party is Over

 

 

Lights are low on 3rd floor oncology

Animal Kingdom drones from the TV

mingles with soft voices 

Low phantom moans

waft from rooms of the hapless

busy going through paces of dying

 

Voices no longer full and rich

like the four-footed folk

she holds deepest

less cruel in their pursuit of survival

than the world

she has come to know

 

She steals minutes, gasps breaths

sitting cross-legged, head bowed

carelessly wrapped in sheets

like Gandhi

after days of fasting

 

Outside the waiting room window

stand the postcard-mountains

like props in the Truman Show

 

“In case I don’t see ya…good afternoon,

good evening and good night”

Visitor


All morning
something has darted
just out of line of sight
snagged at periphery
as it shoots past
Stomach flutters a greeting
with each swoop
Even though I know
you’ve left this life
beyond my comprehension
the mind is hopeful
the heart refuses to let go

May 14, 2002 3:04pm