Ally Malinenko is the author of the poetry collections The Wanting Bone and How To Be An American (from Pittsburgh’s Six Gallery Press) as well as the novel This Is Sarah (Bookfish Books). She lives in Brooklyn with her husband, but will be visiting East End Book Exchange on July 23rd to celebrate the launch of her most recent poetry collection, Better Luck Next Year.
We asked Malinenko what she hopes readers take away from her most recent collection, which Low Ghost Press has very kindly allowed us to excerpt below!
Ally Malinenko: “I think the reason anyone writes anything, or reads anything for that matter, is to connect with another person. To put something into the universe that a stranger picks up and says, ‘Yes, I know that! That’s me!’ To cultivate empathy – something we could all use a little more of. Cancer is an incredibly universal disease. You can’t throw a rock without hitting someone who has been affected. But it is also exceedingly isolating. There is a clear demarcation between the life you used to have and the life after diagnosis and it bleeds into nearly every aspect of your existence. So what I tried to do is speak to that as honestly as I could. It was an attempt to dismantle the ‘warrior myth’ and fetizishing of breast cancer. When you scrape away all the ribbons and charity walks you’re left with some very harsh realities. So if there’s anything I hope that people get out of it it would be the ability to speak more honestly about our shared fears and hopes. To speak as honestly as we can about mortality – our own and that of those we love.”
The Waiting #1
When it is Monday
I am both too close
and not close
enough to Wednesday
which is the day
I should get the call
about the biopsy.
And I am not doing well
one drink away from tears
and you are trying
telling me it’s fine
and I am nodding
wanting to grab you
and shake you and
It’s fucking cancer.
I know it.
I saw the doctor’s face
when she turned
to wash my blood off her gloved fingers
after dropping bits of me
into a jar for the lab
and I said
Hey Doc, you’re not worried are you?
craning my neck
to see her face
from this operating table
and she said
using my full
name the way people
who don’t know me do
she said, Yes, Allyson, I’m very worried
before yanking off her gloves
dropping them in the sink
and walking out the door.
Do you have kids?
the resident doctor asks.
I look at his nametag but he turns too quickly for me to catch it.
No, my husband answers for me.
The resident frowns. Okay, he says.
Do you want to have kids?
No, I say, casually. No.
I say it again trying to sound resolute.
Oh good, he says with a big sigh of relief
and a wide loose smile.
That will make my job way easier.
Cause that’s off the table once we start treatment
and now we don’t have to worry about saving eggs.
He mimics wiping sweat from his brow and
moves on to the next question.
In my head I picture a chicken roost.
And right there
everything comes together.
I see the split in the road.
And it is permanent.
There is a hard cold difference
between setting down something precious
and having it pulled from your hands
still wet with afterbirth.
The difference between
Don’t Want and Can’t Have.
And just like that
I have changed camps.
Better Luck Next Year
I’m not even sure why I kept it so long
this pewter pink ribbon pin
that was given to me during radiation treatment
that first day when the nurse walked up and said
I have something for your collection
nodding at all the pins on my bag
and placed in my hand a little pink ribbon
and I took it with quivering fingertips
there in my hospital gown
waiting to be burned
because I didn’t know what else to do.
I put it on my bag with the others
and there it stayed
through all of treatment
through the tears
and the panic
the sick dizzy feeling
in the middle of the night when I got up to pee
the one that told me
You’re going to die. Sooner. Painfully.
It stayed there through the injections
and the long hours spent in the waiting room.
It stayed there through telling my parents
and my friends and the depression
and the anger that crashed against me like a tidal wave.
It stayed there until
when I looked down at it
I don’t want a symbol
and I don’t want to be a warrior.
I thought of all the young women that came before me
the ones that died
and the ones that lived
and all the others
out there right now blossoming
this burden in their holy bodies.
I thought of all the things people told me
when I told them about this hurricane of a tumor in me
and it was yours that came back to me:
Better luck next year, I guess.
You said it not insincerely
but with the exacting honesty
of the unchangeable
unfairness of this life
and I took the ribbon pin off my bag
because I am not a warrior
or a survivor
but just a young woman trying to live with a disease
and I hurled it over the
wrought iron of the cemetery fence
and I kept walking
not caring to see which grave it landed at
knowing that at least
it wasn’t mine.
Better Luck Next Year is excerpted here by permission of Low Ghost Press.