Three Poems by Jeannine Hall Gailey

Cancer Scare

It will happen on a sunny day when other things
are happening that are more important – 
the lilacs will bloom, or the moon will stand out full and lovely.
It will be an incidental finding on a scan they did “just to be safe.”
It will mean writing a will, thinking about who you want
handling your things, your spouse, after you are gone.
I don’t know what yours will look like – 
mine was a minefield of jelly beans, quail egg-sized
tumors, thriving somewhere inside my body,
a minefield waiting for a misstep.
Where is cancer born? Cancer is part of us.
From our own cells, healthy, then, striving to be immortal – 
tiny monsters unwilling to give up or go home.
Cancer is an arsonist, setting fire to your plans, your future.
Cancer is a zombie army within, a ravenous horde.  
For you, will the sun set with a happy ending,
a benign cyst removed and a clean bill of health?
Or will it be the surprise twist, with an uncertain lingering
over the tiniest details – the way a strawberry tastes,
the sun on your skin, the bright obscene burst
of pink on the azaleas – then, fade to black,
beep, beep, breathe, say goodnight.


Self-Portrait as Film Noir Villainess

Leggy, emerging from shadow in a hat and veil,
dress dark as blood – red silk, perhaps, or black velvet,

liquid in the chiaroscuro. A train station, and me with a mysterious
errand of vengeance, poison with a suitcase and a mission.

If you can, imagine my background as disheveled, neglected child
with ratty hair, a nefarious case of missing persons,

and all the scenes take place in a rainstorm.
I’ve spent a lot of time in the back of police cars, 

I’m intimate with the make and model of the kind of gun
you’re holding in your hand right now. I wear gloves

even in warm weather. I’m really a cipher, a plot device,
a way to let the men be heroic or not in the inevitable last scene

where I throw myself in front of the bullet, or drive into the frozen
lake. Don’t be fooled by my satin glamour, the smoothness of my hair

and skin; it’s been a rough ride always assuming the mistaken identity,
the murderer’s weapon, the high heeled shoe that just catches the light.


Lessons Learned from Final Girls

Don’t wear a bikini. Don’t have sex on the first date. Wear shoes you can actually run in. Be sure to bring your own car for quick escapes. Wear roller-skates if necessary.

Don’t hide in the basement, don’t hide in the haunted barn, where the noose still hangs empty. Learn to wield the axe, the chainsaw, the giant blade. Don’t wait for anyone to save you.
Don’t bother screaming. Don’t bother empathizing with the killer, don’t bother trying to learn his backstory. Don’t waste time trying to save your friend, the drunk blonde. She is literally dead before she appears on screen.

In fact, don’t go to camp at all. Don’t drive with your friends out to the woods on the anniversary of that murder or drowning; don’t sneak out with your boyfriend or go after your lost dog. Don’t bother with the full moon, with wild parties. Stay close. Stay home and eat a sandwich.  

Jeannine Hall Gailey served as the second Poet Laureate of Redmond, Washington. She’s the author of five books of poetry: Becoming the Villainess, She Returns to the Floating World, Unexplained Fevers, The Robot Scientist’s Daughter, and Field Guide to the End of the World, winner of the Moon City Press Book Prize. Her work has been featured on NPR’s The Writer’s Almanac, Verse Daily, and in The Year’s Best Fantasy and Horror. Her poems have appeared in The American Poetry Review and Prairie Schooner. Her web site is