“My Mother’s Optimism” by John Guzlowski

Nea Kameni, Santorini, Greece, 2010
Nea Kameni, Santorini, Greese, 2010

When she was seventy-eight years old
and the angel of death called to her
and told her the vaginal bleeding
that had been starting and stopping
like a crazy menopausal  period
was ovarian cancer, she said to him,
“Listen Doctor, I don’t have to tell you
your job.  If it’s cancer it’s cancer.
If you got to cut it out, you got to.”

After surgery, in the convalescent home
among the old men crying for their mothers,
and the silent roommates waiting for death,
she called me over to see her wound,
stapled and stitched, fourteen raw inches
from below her breasts to below her navel.
And when I said, “Mom, I don’t want to see it,”

She said, “Johnny, don’t be such a baby.”
Eight months later, at the end of her chemo,
my mother knows why the old men cry.
A few wiry strands of hair on her head,
her hands so weak she can’t hold a cup,
her legs swollen and blotched with blue lesions,
she says, “I’ll get better.  After his chemo,
Pauline’s second husband had ten more years.
He was golfing and breaking down doors
when he died of a heart attack at ninety.”

Then my mom’s eyes lock on mine, and she says,
“You know, optimism is a crazy man’s mother.”
And she laughs.



John Guzlowski’s fiction and poetry has been published in The Ontario Review, Atlanta Review, Exquisite Corpse and other print and online journals. His poems about his parents’ experiences in Nazi concentration camps appear in his book Lightning and Ashes. Regarding the Polish edition of these poems, Nobel Laureate Czeslaw Milosz says the poems are “astonishing.” Guzlowski blogs about his parents and their experiences here.

Read an interview with John here.