Oct. 23, 2006

Leaning Together in a Storm

by Larry Smith

Listen (RealAudio) | How to listen

Poem: "Leaning Together in a Storm" by Larry Smith, from A River Remains. © WordTech Editions. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

Leaning Together in a Storm

Twelve older men in shirt sleeves
sit around the Cancer Center
sipping ice water and making jokes
waiting for the meeting to begin.
"Ever notice how no one parks
in the Cancer Center zone?"
I am one of them tonight
meant to acknowledge
our story within
our private brotherhood.

The counselor rises to welcome us
asks each to state his cancer story:
give his name and dates
the procedure we chose
tell how long he's survived.
And I take real joy
in hearing them speak
sensing their eyes, their bodies
seated beside me here.

Then a door opens
and our leader rises
to introduce the night's speaker
a young surgeon, his slide-tray at his side.
"Greetings, Gentlemen," he grins
snapping on his slides, projecting
our organs onto the wall,
touching them with his pointer
in blunt precision,
warning us again of lymph nodes
cells outside the prostate
that can end our life.
We swallow a hundred nightmares
with smiles and nods.

I interrupt his gay delivery,
"What about orgasm ...?"
"Forget orgasm," he grins,
"You don't have a prostate."
Another asks about second opinions,
"Go ahead ... what can it hurt?" then adds,
"Unfortunately it won't help much either."
I want to escape this torture by words,
but ask instead, "And what about the
radiation seed implants they're doing in Seattle?"
He turns on me like a cop. "We're doing those now.
So it's a question, how big is your ego?"
Some smile at this, other know
how cold the knife is, how his words
cut across our lives, our wish to live
each breath, see morning spread
across our lawn, our grandchildren's faces.
We all have this unspoken need
to pace our life
like a heart beat.

In the end we let it go
trade our feelings for facts
we already know,
"It's a game of numbers,"
he says again, and I wonder
if these others want to drive
this witch doctor from the room
and gather warmth from the fire
we sit around, share our stories
together of going on

Literary and Historical Notes:

It's the birthday of Michael Crichton, (books by this author) born in Chicago (1942). He decided to pursue writing at Harvard, but his writing style was continually criticized by his teachers and he earned a C average. He decided it was the school, not he, that was in error. So for the next assignment, he retyped an essay by George Orwell and submitted it as his own. The professor did not catch his plagiarism, and gave Crichton a B minus. Crichton decided to change his major to anthropology.

To pay for his medical studies, he began writing paperback adventure novels under the pseudonym John Lang. On top of his schoolwork, he managed to produce 10,000 words a day, ultimately publishing eight novels with titles such as Zero Cool (1969), The Venom Business (1969), and Drug of Choice (1970). Just one year out of medical school he published the novel that made his name: The Andromeda Strain (1969), about scientists racing to stop the spread of a deadly new bacteria introduced to Earth from outer space.

Crichton went on to become the author of many best-selling thriller novels, but he also directed several films, and created the popular TV show ER about the daily lives of hospital emergency room employees. He's one of the rare popular writers who's never settled down to one genre. Most of his books touch on science, including Jurassic Park (1990), about dinosaurs brought to life through genetic engineering. But he's also written about Vikings and Japanese businessmen, sexual harassment, and nanotechnology.

It's the birthday of the most popular talk show host in American history, Johnny Carson, born in Corning, Iowa (1925). He was the son of a utility company lineman, and he grew up an extremely shy boy. But when he was 12 years old he happened to read a how-to book about magic tricks and he became obsessed. He later said that it was the discovery of magic that helped him relate to people. He sent away for a mail-order magic kit and began following his family members around the house, asking them to pick a card. He performed publicly for the first time when he was 14 at the local rotary club. His mother sewed him a cape embroidered with his name, "The Great Carsoni."

He took over hosting The Tonight Show from Jack Paar in 1962. By the mid-1970s, more than 15 million people were watching The Tonight Show every night before they went to bed. He hosted the show for 30 years, which was two-thirds of the time that national TV has existed. He retired from the show after having taped 4,531 shows, and almost never appeared in public again.

Be well, do good work, and keep in touch.®




  • “Writers end up writing stories—or rather, stories' shadows—and they're grateful if they can, but it is not enough. Nothing the writer can do is ever enough” —Joy Williams
  • “I want to live other lives. I've never quite believed that one chance is all I get. Writing is my way of making other chances.” —Anne Tyler
  • “Writing is a performance, like singing an aria or dancing a jig” —Stephen Greenblatt
  • “All good writing is swimming under water and holding your breath.” —F. Scott Fitzgerald
  • “Good writing is always about things that are important to you, things that are scary to you, things that eat you up.” —John Edgar Wideman
  • “In certain ways writing is a form of prayer.” —Denise Levertov
  • “Writing is a socially acceptable form of schizophrenia.” —E.L. Doctorow
  • “Writing is like driving at night in the fog. You can only see as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.” —E.L. Doctorow
  • “Let's face it, writing is hell.” —William Styron
  • “A writer is someone for whom writing is more difficult than it is for other people.” —Thomas Mann
  • “Writing is 90 percent procrastination: reading magazines, eating cereal out of the box, watching infomercials.” —Paul Rudnick
  • “Writing is a failure. Writing is not only useless, it's spoiled paper.” —Padget Powell
  • “Writing is very hard work and knowing what you're doing the whole time.” —Shelby Foote
  • “I think all writing is a disease. You can't stop it.” —William Carlos Williams
  • “Writing is like getting married. One should never commit oneself until one is amazed at one's luck.” —Iris Murdoch
  • “The less conscious one is of being ‘a writer,’ the better the writing.” —Pico Iyer
  • “Writing is…that oddest of anomalies: an intimate letter to a stranger.” —Pico Iyer
  • “Writing is my dharma.” —Raja Rao
  • “Writing is a combination of intangible creative fantasy and appallingly hard work.” —Anthony Powell
  • “I think writing is, by definition, an optimistic act.” —Michael Cunningham
Current Faves - Learn more about poets featured frequently on the show