Stephanie Brown
A Foreign Country

I can’t come to work today.  My son has a brain tumor.

Tommy can’t come to school today.  He has a brain tumor.

I said something like this.  But my voice was cracking.

It was Monday at eight o’clock.

I’d woken up at the children’s hospital.

It was a January morning.  It was really hot.

I looked out the window. The hills were beautiful.  I never thought

I’d be here.  Didn’t think I’d be talking about a brain tumor.

Didn’t know that morning about

Ogliodendromas, astrocytomas, the dreaded brain stem glioma.


That day, my son died, he lived a shorter lifespan, he outlived me.

The doctor was a pro: If this were my kid

This is what I’d do: take it out, tomorrow at 2 PM. 

So my intuition spoke, as my body was reacting with fear, with chills, with tears, with dread—

Sometimes the tumors just pop right out, the nurse said.  She was cheery;

We were all watching Cash Cab on TV before he left for surgery.

I don’t want to die a virgin, Tommy said.  He is a fourteen year old boy, after all.

He has a lot of things ahead.


The night before the tumor spoke as a seizure which left him writhing on the floor

I’d dreamed that I was on a ferry boat.

As we capsized, I was thrown

Like a person shot out of a cannon.

I felt like I was on the giant drop of a roller coaster;

I dropped and dropped and couldn’t stop. 

I fell neatly into the shallow water, surfaced, and walked to the edge of a river

Calm, in my wet dress.  Tommy stood waiting for me.  We went back

To the launch.  There were phones to use, and people gladly gave me coins.

They said they could get us on the next flight home. 

How kind they were: waiting to help me. I noticed

How willing they were.  All I had to do was ask.

There we were, all alone in a foreign country, and I wasn’t afraid.

Found In Volume 40, No. 01
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Stephanie Brown
About the Author

Stephanie Brown is the author of Domestic Interior (University of Pittsburgh Press) and Allegory of the Supermarket (University of Georgia Press).  Her poems and essays have appeared in many recent anthologies.  She was awarded and NEA Fellowship in 2001.