The long wait


God, but don’t I just know it:
that greedy little glutton
sucks the life right out of you—
all my grandparents, one by one,
then my brother, and now,
Stage IIIB in my father’s lungs.
I mean, one year? What’s that,
with a lifetime to repair?

And what do I do then?



Phil Wilke,  my best friend from Kansas (and just one of the funniest, most genuine and upright guys you will ever want to meet) recently emailed me to let me know that his father had just been diagnosed with Stage IIIB lung cancer. In that email he had written a small haiku detailing his family’s history with the dreaded disease, a poem which ended with “cancer sucks.” I asked permission, which he granted, to work on the poem for the Book of Pain.

I cannot imagine there is anyone left today who has not had a close friend or family member who has been struck by the disease. Even as our ability to fight it slowly increases, so too does its rate of occurrence seem to be increasing. And yet we persevere and support those we love because that is all we know to do.

Thank you for reading The long wait. I humbly appreciate your visiting the Book of Pain, and as always, I look forward to your comments.

The photograph was taken in Newfoundland, which I visited recently, to visit my ailing father. For more photography, please visit the Book of Bokeh.


Poem © 2014 by Phil Wilke and John Etheridge; all rights reserved. Photograph and notes © 2014 by John Etheridge; all rights reserved. The poem and accompanying notes are licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 Unported License. This applies to all original written work found on this site, unless noted otherwise. The attribution claimed under the license is: © 2014 by John Etheridge and Phil Wilke, The photograph is not licensed for use or reproduction in any way, unless so granted in writing by the copyright owner.


Filed under Poetry

11 responses to “The long wait

  1. psychopathsgetbored28

    I feel sorry after reading this. I wish your friend well. God bless him and his family.

  2. Wonderful piece. I also love ‘Defying Gravity’ by Roger McGough – a sensitive portrait in words of a dying friend.

    • Chris, I had never read this. But thank you, thank you, thank you for bringing it to my attention. What a wonderfully beautifully written poem!

      Defying Gravity

      Gravity is one of the oldest tricks in the book.
      Let go of the book and it abseils to the ground
      As if, at the centre of the earth, spins a giant yo-yo
      To which everything is attached by an invisible string.

      Tear out a page of the book and make an aeroplane.
      Launch it. For an instant it seems that you have fashioned
      A shape that can outwit air, that has slipped the knot.
      But no. The earth turns, the winch tightens, it is wound in.

      One of my closest friends is, at the time of writing,
      Attempting to defy gravity, and will surely succeed.
      Eighteen months ago he was playing rugby,
      Now, seven stones lighter, his wife carries him aw-

      Kwardly from room to room. Arranges him gently
      Upon the sofa for visitors. ‘How are things?’
      Asks one, not wanting to know. Pause. ‘Not too bad.’
      (Open brackets. Condition inoperable. Close brackets.)

      Soon now, the man that I love (not the armful of bones)
      Will defy gravity. Freeing himself from the tackle
      He will sidestep the opposition and streak down the wing
      Towards a dimension as yet unimagined.

      Back where the strings are attached there will be a service
      And homage paid to the giant yo-yo. A box of leftovers
      Will be lowered into a space on loan from the clay.
      Then, weighted down, the living will walk wearily away.

      — Roger McGough

  3. The long wait: Tragic news and the writer in deep shock. I could feel his pain – so real! No words…

    • Phil is such a dear man and a good friend. Cancer is never an easy process. The most you can hope for, at times, is to maintain your dignity. I am heartbroken for him.

  4. Defying Gravity: Very different, but encouraging. Really loved this. Will watch/google more of his work. Thank you John.