Nate had a stuffed koala bear that had no name.
As kids, we went to the metro zoo to see
the koala exhibit. In the eucalyptus tree the animal
napped. Heavy-lidded, Nate snoozes.
Chemo works its alchemy—
and Nate is a koala, sleeping
twenty-three hours a day, slipping
from that slumber into a semi-lucid wakefulness
focused on consumption of calories.
Eucalyptus works as both sustenance and drug,
the koala both full and stoned, ears alert to predator
or whatever koalas might fear, hidden within
the tree’s leaves. Nate’s wrapped in an afghan
our mother crocheted to keep her worried hands busy.
Chemo’s a constant drip, not the hour or so of gorging leaves.
Down under, koalas live among the other marsupials;
Down under the patients stay tethered by tubes to trees
of fluid packs and monitors, all drowsy like koalas perched
in branches, the rhythmic pass of sleep-breathing, eyes shuttered,
hands clasped together as if in some kind of prayer.
Renée K. Nicholson
Review by Mark Kerstetter
“Eucalyptus” is even better than “Zen Cancer Saloon” in my view because the central metaphor is original. Who would have thought—eucalyptus and koala bear as metaphor for chemotherapy and cancer patient? Not me. But a simple google search reveals that eucalyptus leaves are poisonous and eucalyptus oil is toxic. Those leaves are life to koala bears, though. As in “Zen Cancer Saloon” the details here are coming from the perspective of a firsthand witness. I admire so much that this poem does not even begin to slip into sentimentality, let alone mawkishness, which it seems to me would be hard to avoid, with images of stuffed bears, animals at the zoo and a sick child wrapped in a blanket. The simple facts are enough, and we readers may feel free to weep. It’s a beautiful poem.