Second Prize, Form & Form-Breaking Poetry Competition
In this “American ghazal,” Eileen Toomey braids the distancing, medicalized description of immunotherapy as a cancer treatment with the immediacy of a couple’s weed-infused road trip from Jersey to Chicago while the husband endures the miseries of cancer treatment. The pace is staccato, capturing the perilous madness of American life, especially its political realities bleeding in through the car radio: “Dominion machines, Team Normal, drunk Rudy, fake lawyers armed with conspiracy lies…We don’t make eye contact with random men wearing camo at the Erie Islands Service Plaza.” Eileen Toomey modifies the Arabic form’s traditional inclusion of the poet’s name in the final couplet to include, instead, her husband’s name. “I love you,” she writes. “Where’s the lighter?”
—Diane Seuss, Judge
Nivolumab, sold under the brand name Opdivo, is a medication used to treat cancer. It works
We stop for bagels, fill a tank of gas, the highway calls. Jersey to Chicago, the highway calls.
by blocking PD-1 proteins on cancer cells, allowing immune T cells to attack the cancer.
Down the New Jersey Turnpike to the Pennsylvania Turnpike, past Trump signs near Philly.
The drug removes the “cloak of invisibility” from diseased cells so the T cells can “see” them.
Triangle barn in the distance, a gaggle of motorized cranes parked inside a concrete clover.
T cell assassins, radicalized, overtake the patient, his immune system officially out of control.
We smoke legal weed when we pull over with the kids gone and Michael’s stomach in shambles.
Whereas chemotherapy attacks the cancer directly, immunotherapy rallies the patient’s own
The House Committee Investigation findings on CNN radio. Wow. Now we like Liz Cheney?
immune system to fight the disease. Therapy that has gone from experimental to mainstream.
White clouds appear behind the anti-evolution billboard, hang low near Pittsburgh valleys.
Long-term immune-related checkpoint inhibitors can cause a range of long-term side effects:
Dominion machines, Team Normal, drunk Rudy, fake lawyers armed with conspiracy lies.
fibromyalgia, anxiety, nerve pain, thyroiditis, GERD, depression, shadows, wheezing.
We don’t make eye contact with random men wearing camo at the Erie Islands Service Plaza.
Corticosteroids do not impact the efficacy of immunotherapy in metastatic patients, but cause
Hang Mike Pence, “patriots” chanted. For these roads, we laugh, weeds in Hoosier pavement.
changes in weight, mood and behavior resulting in an increase of irritability and aggression
Michael’s neck is thick; his head is swollen. He doesn’t wake up when we pass Notre Dame.
i.e., roid-rage, patient request to reduce intake at this time. List of Medications: Diltiazem
I white-knuckle drive through semi-truck canyons clogging up the Illinois/Indiana border.
ER 240 MG, Olmesartan 40 MG. Albuterol Sulfate HFA, Clonazepam .5, Duloxetine HCL 60 MG,
Hell is between 94 and I-80 but I grew up on the south side of Chicago, and I need my sister today.
Atorvastatin, Calcium carbonate, 1000 MG. Omeprazole, Levothyroxine Sodium, 150 MCG, Lexapro
We listen to our last new John Prine playlist, God rest his soul, road warriors for thirty-four years.
Vitamin B-12. Pepto-Bismol. Patience. Advil. Laughs. Conversation. Empathy. As needed. Excedrin.
I love you. Where’s the lighter? Long ago Eileen married Michael Toomey. The highway calls.
Eileen Toomey’s works have appeared in Oyster River Pages, The Rumpus, The Tishman Review, Fish Food Magazine, The Eastern Iowa Review, and the Museum of Americana. She lives in Red Bank, New Jersey with her husband, Michael. Eileen is currently writing a memoir about growing up in Canaryville on the south side of Chicago where her mother taught her how to appreciate the little things in order to endure life’s biggest hurdles.
Cover Design by Karen Rile