With husband Roger Weir, cancer survivor, sitting next to her, Just Poets’ Karla Linn Merrifield stood up. “We’ve been coming here for 18 years,” Karla said to the 25 or so Oncology staff volunteers and caregivers who came to share lunch and words at the R-Voices’ “Healing Voices: Poetry at Wilmot” reading. Not 18 times, 18 years. Imagine that. It was my first time in this Family Resource Center. It was the first time Strong held such an event.
Karla read three strong poems: “At the Feet of Birds” “On Earth” and “Invitation in Massai” from her chapbook The Urn. Then Just Poets members, as well as cancer survivors themselves, Ruth Wright and Anita Augesen shared some cathartic work of their own. Ruth read her poem “The Salon,” her metaphor for the radiation room, and Anita read “Chemotherapy,” telling of losing her hair and finding so much more. They brought the poetic voice of “what’s-it-like being a patient.” Colleen Powderly, David Delaney, Precious Bedell, and Bart White also shared their work.
Then several of the staff and volunteers in attendance gave poetic voice to the warm and friendly gathering. Senior Social Worker Sandra Sabatka explained how she heard a poem on the radio coming into work one morning on WXXI’s“Writer’s Almanac.” She read that poem entitled “I Give Thanks” by Marie Reynolds. Michele Allen, from the Oncology finance office read Mary Oliver’s “Summer Morning.” Caregiver Ellen Van Zandt read her poem “I Climbed a Mountain Today.” Hazel Pugh, assistant to Catherine Thomas, director of Patient Services, shifted gears a bit and sang a beautiful rendition of “What a Piece Of Work is Man” from the musical Hair. Applause. Applause for all.
Dwight Hettler, the Wilmot Center’s assistant associate director, and Catherine Thomas expressed their pleasure at this event. “This is the first time we have had poetry here” said Dwight. And he enthusiastically welcomed a return next year. Catherine Thomas gave the poets and attendees a big thanks and a special thanks to Sandra Sabatka, Bart, and Karla for putting it all together.
But the last words came from Karla.
“Cancer teaches us so much,” said Karla.
by David Delaney
For more photos and a video of this event, please click here.