Cohabitating with Illness

Cohabitating with Illness

Poem by Kristin Berkey-Abbott
Artwork by Elizabeth Stelling



Cancer, a sloppy roommate, sheds
cells like wet towels on a bathroom floor,
creating new housemates, inviting the relatives
to move into a house that will not hold us all.
Heart disease plays its music too loudly
into the night, a raucous band of cholesterol
and plaque. It clogs the plumbing
with its ill-considered flushing.
Diabetes refuses to pick up after its pets,
letting Sugar and Insulin run wild.
They destroy the rugs and chew
the furniture of toes and kidneys.
High blood pressure slips through the doors
in the night while we sleep.
We never know it’s been there
except for the credit card receipts left behind.
Alzheimer’s forgets the rules we’ve agreed
to, misplacing the chore charts, hiding the bills
that must be paid. It wanders
away, but forgets to take its possessions.
Parkinson’s, Huntington’s, the scary
ones with anger management issues. They beat
us within an inch of our lives, but we forgive
them because they’re so damn charming.
We could have courted health,
but we found cigarettes, fatty foods, alcohol, and illconsidered
sex so much more alluring.
Now we cohabit with illness.

  1. Wow, just wow.

  2. Kristin Berkey-Abbott

    Thanks for your response!

  3. I live in this house…it fits so well with my great-grandparents old homestead photo. I’m proud to have them sit together. Also Kristin, my daughter passed away from heart disease (CHD) twelve years ago this month, so this rings many bells for me, thanks for writing it! Just Wow!

  4. Oh BTW, I’m Chef E aka Elizabeth Akin Stelling…

  5. Jeanette Gallagher

    Truly original creation! It’s a fantastic poem that stops us in our tracks, causes us to ponder and wonder how we can take better care of ourselves.

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