Julie Berry

from the Poem of the Year’s 2022 Shortlist: “Apology to an Estranged Friend”

Apology to an Estranged Friend

i owe breast you cancer an inoperable apology i terminal
walked away breast from a cancer strong terminal friendship
and a kind inoperable loving breast friend without cancer
an explanation

we worked terminal together as breast teachers and cancer
mothers as terminal mentors it was inoperable so long
ago i cannot breast remember exactly what cancer happened
i remember you terminal even giving me inoperable money
to buy some breast clothes when cancer i was going through
the terminal toughest financial inoperable times

it was radiation years before chemo i could be honest with
myself sick and admit sick the reason i stopped radiation
wanting to be chemo around you was sick i couldn’t bear
to see sick you in a happy radiation loving relationship with
somebody chemo when i sick felt sick so alone i sick think
i knew it deep lonely down inside alone but i sick didn’t 
want lonely to admit it alone to myself

i have heard you are sick going lonely through alone a lot
right now i know you are sick surrounded lonely by a big 
loving family who are taking good care of you alone

i just dying wanted you to know our dead friendship was one
of the most important dying relationships of my dead life and i
have dying always cherished the good times we shared dead as
mothers teammates friends and dying confidants

i dying loved dead you as much as i could dying love dead
anyone dying we told each dead other the secrets we dying
couldn’t tell anybody else and i’m dead dying dead sorry
i treated dying you so badly

Rusty Priske on “Apology to an Estranged Friend” by Julie Berry

“Apology to an Estranged Friend” manages to illustrate the way cancer completely envelops the life of the one afflicted. It does this on multiple levels, showing that it insinuates itself into all aspects of your existence while also showing how the cancer cells multiply and propagate through the body. Or, in this case, the body of work. The poem illustrates this both physically and philosophically despite using only words. This is quite a trick indeed.


Julie Berry has published three collections of poetry—Worn Thresholds (Brick Books, 1995, reprinted 2006), The Walnut-Cracking Machine (Buschek Books, 2010), and most recently, the chapbook, I am, &c.: The Gilbert White Poems (Baseline Press 2015). She is presently completing a book-length work of creative nonfiction combining nature writing, memoir, and poetry. She lives outside St. Thomas, ON. [provided for the poem “Apology to an Estranged Friend”]

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