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by Tim Kahl

A man had a colon cancer that was two years old, and he decided to throw a birthday party for it.

But what kind of gift does one get for a tumor?

There’s nothing it needs more than me, thought the man. Surely, I am the source of its power. My cells are home to its many inner mysteries. What does it need a book or a board game or a bigger television for?

The man, however, failed to realize that these were things that he needed, not the tumor. He should have been able to guess what it wanted. He had been spending so much time on the couch with it, flipping through his days between doctor visits.

The party was like a homecoming for a friend who never intended to leave again, who kept on taking up more and more bathroom space until it became a problem to get to the toilet in a hurry. There the man could descend into his ritual of grunting and wondering whether food would ever recapture its charm.

He served his guests exotic cheese and gewürztraminer, wild rice to mark his previous carefree days. The tumor was the only one to lead a protest. It signaled its cause — to ambush the subconscious. Later that night the man had the strange feeling that he was drowning, flushed into the sewer system, landing in a great heap at the treatment plant, drying out, and evaporating into free radicals in the air.

But the man was unsure if it was really the tumor’s birthday or maybe it was their anniversary, their time of shared commitment to each other, their time of hopes and plans remade in the dark style of Rembrandt, their rememberings, their recounting of old CAT scans taken together, their lists of everything left to do, the chipped pots, the broken scissors, the Ace bandage’s worn elastic, the affirmation of their vow: ’til death do us part.

Tim Kahl is the author of Possessing Yourself (CW Books 2009) and The Century of Travel (CW Books, 2012). His work has been published in Prairie Schooner, Indiana Review, Ninth Letter, Notre Dame Review, The Journal, Parthenon West Review, and many other journals in the U.S. He appears as Victor Schnickelfritz at the poetry and poetics blog The Great American Pinup and the poetry video blog Linebreak Studios. He is also editor of Bald Trickster Press and Clade Song. He is the vice president and events coordinator of The Sacramento Poetry Center.

Lead image: “Tumour” *with edits* (via Flickr user Artur Bergman)