Renée K. Nicholson: Zen Cancer Saloon

                            Gentle Days, by Mary Hatch, 1999, oil on canvas, 28” x 36”


Zen Cancer Saloon
                              —title after D.C. Berry

In the Zen Cancer Saloon
you won’t find Clark Gable
nor John Wayne. No six shooters
nor swinging wood doors. The drinks
are damn near poison, drop steady
like a soaking rain. The patrons
readily offer up their stories
like a platter of fried chicken,
side of okra, another of collard greens,
stuff they no longer eat. A shot
of whiskey just to settle the stomach.
Complaints are few at the Zen Cancer Saloon,
& if the fare is noxious, the service, pretty good.
A smile a kind of currency, the tips not bills
nor coins: Gonna lick this thing. Better laugh
than cry. Que sera sera. Every day’s a gift
even on the drip. The one place where it’d be okay
to bitch & moan, but the patrons never waiver,
line up at their recliners as if barstools, trade in
happiness, list the things they’re grateful for, and slip
into that stupor of not-quite slumber, the racket fading,
last call, tab closed out.

Renée K. Nicholson

Review by Mark Kerstetter
I’m not familiar with the D. C. Berry poems, but I understand he wrote his cancer poems after succumbing to the disease. I don’t know if this is the case with Renée K. Nicholson, but I can tell you she’s been to the Saloon, whether as patron or guest. I know, because I’ve been there. The title is important, because the poem illustrates the kind of place suggested by it. All the details are right, and some of them might seem odd to one who’s not been there, but I’ve seen it with my own eyes. Whenever I asked my friend, a patron of the Saloon, how she could be so strong, she would only answer with a joke: “It’s all an illusion” or “I’m in denial.” A fierce and courageous warrior, in my eyes (a tough-ass gunslinger might come to mind), at the Saloon she could let go. She had done all she could for the moment, and could sit back and let the good people administer her dose of poison. The stuff makes you tired anyway, may as well kick back and relax.

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