Adept word-stringer Caryn Mirriam-Goldberg is currently Poet Laureate to the state of Kansas. Her breast cancer memoir, The Sky Begins at Your Feet (Ice Cube Press), is written with an active poet’s vivid imagery for home situations, encounters medical and personal, and critical moments in treatment. Her diagnosis emerges into the center of a full life of teaching, mothering three children, managing a busy household, and energizing environmental groups with her husband Ken. Clearly hospitable, she has gathered circles of companions in mission, work, and play; she draws readers into her experiences as she recounts years of coping with the breast cancer she discovers she is genetically set up to suffer.
Struck by her connection of a tumor-removal explanation to the memory of a street clown extracting ping pong balls from the ears of onlookers, I followed the associative power of her imagination through consults, surgeries, chemotherapy, illness, and recuperation.
As a hospital chaplain and a poet, I have observed in patients the healing and sustaining value of imagination and humor. Putting a different face on unwelcome news is a way of creating one’s own label for it, gaining some control. In this writing, x-rays and MRI’s “light up like part of the cancer pinball machine.” Several days after diagnosis she watches her own reactions unfold. “Fear burrowed underground. Courage slept in the corner next to the cat. Anxiety sat at a computer typing like a maniac. Hope looked out the window.”
Her passion for protection of Earth is interwoven with potluck suppers, healing rituals, treatment accounts, and interviews with the next specialist to be consulted. This book adds vital personality to the breast cancer canon, its pages full of feelings, body sensations, altering relationships with spouse, children, friends, and distant family members. Stringent in its presentation of difficulties and pain encountered, it is generously appreciative of the kindness and loyalty of family, friends, colleagues, and fellow environmentalists near and far.
Healing choices complementary to medical procedures are mainly concerned with sustaining a positive attitude, and calming or increasing energy. She welcomes and blesses vials of chemo soon to be introduced into her body. Her healing energy practitioner attends her all the way. Experience this lively story, which ends with brief accounts of six anniversaries post treatment. Creativity, chemistry, and body love have won.
Living in the Lawrence, Kansas, area, Caryn Mirriam-Goldberg teaches Transformative Language Arts through Goddard College. She runs writing workshops for people living with serious illness, a practice which is taking root in many places as a healing modality.With singer-songwriter Kelley Hunt she performs and leads Brave Voice workshops and retreats. A few lines from her song serve as entry into the book and its closing note:
I love this body that’s not the way I thought.
I love these people who help me through the dark.
I love this life that keeps me waking up.
To learn more about the author and her work, visit her website: Caryn Mirriam-Goldberg.