Thursday, December 10, 2015

L.A. Photographer and Poet Alexis Rhone Fancher Remembers Her Son Through Poetry . . .

Christal Cooper

* Article with excerpts – 1,594 Words
All excerpts are given copyright privilege by Alexis Rhone Fancher and KYSO Flash.

Poems & Photography by Alexis Rhone Fancher
“Dealing With Death One Poem At A Time”

       Los Angeles based photographer and poet Alexis Rhone Fancher’s second poetry collection, the chapbook State of Grace:  The Joshua Elegies, has been published by KYSO Flash in October 2015.

       The collection, accompanied by Fancher’s photographs is focused on the dying, death, and grief of her son Joshua Dorian Rhone, who was born one month premature on December 14, 1980.

                      Joshua & Jeffrey Sedona Arizona 1989

“After he was born, the nurses brought him to me in a bassinet on wheels.  He had the most intense brown eyes I’d ever seen.  We stared at each other for a very long time.  Soul to Soul. I wrote “Baby Boy Blues” about my feeling of unease about the future – like those old women knew something I didn’t.”

Baby Boy Blues

When he was born,
the old ladies peered
into the cradle,
cooed and clucked.

“If he lives,” one of
them whispered.
“he’ll be a real looker.”

       The feisty and strong baby grew to be 6’4, and led a full and healthy life.  
       He was always generous, and kind to everyone. Incredibly handsome - from birth. We’d be shopping in the mall, and girls would walk up to him and hand him their phone numbers, written on small pieces of paper, neatly folded, and beg him to call. After he died I found a ton of those notes, crammed in a drawer.”

       It wasn’t until 2005 that Fancher and Joshua recognized a growth forming on Joshua’s right arm, mid-way, near the elbow.
       “It was growing at a very fast pace.  We went in to have it looked at and were referred to the oncology department of UCLA.”
       It was during the exploratory surgery on his right arm at UCLA Hospital in Santa Monica that Joshua was diagnosed with epithelioid sarcoma, a rare soft-tissue tumor most often found in young adults, with known propensity for local recurrence, regional lymph node involvement, and distance metastases.  The outcome was not good – death within two years.  

       My son was a free spirit, and in love with life. He loved sports more than anything - baseball, hockey, and martial arts - but his great passion was basketball. In the days before the amputation surgery, he played basketball for hours and hours. He was positive, and self-deprecating, and without doubt the most courageous man I have ever met.”
       Joshua died on September 14, 2007 in the presence of his mother and other family.
       Two weeks after her son’s death, Fancher had a hurtful encounter with a casual friend who inquired if she was over her son’s death.  This experience scarred her and made her son’s death even more painful to endure.

 “The poem “Over It” was written in response to the utter thoughtlessness of a friend two weeks after my son died. However, I didn’t write the poem until 2012. It took that long to digest it.”

       Two weeks after he died,
a friend asked if I was “over it.”
As if my son’s death was something to get
through, like the flu.

Excerpt, “Over It”

       The first poem she wrote from the collection is “The Supermarket And A State of Grace” while studying under the great Jack Grapes.

                                       Jack Gilbert 
       When I was choosing what to include in the chapbook, “The Supermarket And A State of Grace” set the tone. It could be considered a prose poem. I thought it served as an Author’s Note, as well.”

The supermarket is a good place to grieve.  I can roam from aisle to aisle, safe behind dark glasses.

-Excerpt, “The Supermarket and a State of Grace”

       In “Dying Young” Fancher was dealing with Joshua’s dying and her confidant Kate O’Donnell’s losing cancer battle at the same time.

                               Kate O'Donnell  

       “I wanted to write a poem for Josh and Kate.  Put them together closely, as they were in real life.  They had a special bond - we moved in with Kate after Josh and I left his dad when he was three- he called her “Aunt Kate.” The poem began with images in my head: fresh linens, the vision of my son, in that cabin in the woods, alone and reflective; Kate, “reverting back to source,” me, at midnight, sipping camomile tea; Josh’s beautiful girlfriend, Amy, standing alone in a yellow dress, waiting. 

                      Kate O'Donnell 

The poem was my way of working through this double dose of grief, by juxtaposing their stories. Kate passed away in January of 2014. I miss her terribly.”

Kate O'Donnell 

Kate's Kitchen 

Dying Young

Midnight, and again I’m chasing
sleep:  its fresh-linen smell and
deep sinking, but when I close my eyes I see
my son, closing his eyes.  I’m afraid of that dream,
the tape-looped demise as cancer claims him.

My artist friend cancels her L.A. trip.  Unplugs the
internet.  Reverts to source.  If cancer
will not let go its grip then she will
return its embrace.  Squeeze the life out of
her life.  Ride it for all it’s worth.

By the time his friends arrive at the cabin
my son is exhausted, stays behind while
the others set out on a hike.  He picks up the phone.
“Mom, it’s so quiet here.  The air has never
been breathed before.  It’s snowing.”

It put on Mozart.  A warm robe.  Make a pot
of camomile tea.  The view from my 8th floor
window, spectacular, the silver moon, the stark,
neon-smeared buildings, their windows dark.
Sometimes I think I am the only one not sleeping.

My artist friend wants to draw the rain.  She
wants to paint her memoires, wrap the canvas
around her like a burial shroud.

Tonight, a girl in a yellow dress stands below
my window, top lit by a street lamp, her long shadow
spilling into the street.  She’s waiting for someone.

I want to tell my friend I’ll miss her.
I want to tell my son I understand.
I want to tell the girl he won’t be coming.
That it’s nothing personal.  He died young.

       I always work directly on the computer. “Dying Young” was written quickly, maybe in a few hours, but was repeatedly revised over several months before I felt it was finished.”

                      Kate O'Donnell and Alexis Rhone Fancher

“Dying Young” was accepted for publication by Broad Magazine, along with “Death Warrant,” in early 2014. It has since been republished by Cadence Collective, and in Sybaritic Press’s Oscar Wilde Anthology. It was a finalist in last year’s Poetry Super Highway poetry contest.
In the fall of 2014 Fancher gathered all her poems about her son and put them together in a chapbook at her Los Angeles studio that she shares with her husband, whom she calls “Fancher”.

“At that point there were only 10 poems, so I kept writing. I told myself when there were an even dozen; I’d submit the chapbook for publication. Those first ten poems had taken over six years to write!”

Fancher assumed her chapbook was completed and sent it out to publishers.  It was accepted by KYSO Flash Press, which Fancher described as a happy collaboration.

 “I have the great good fortune to be working with Clare MacQueen, who is a first-rate editor, as well as being a knowledgeable, considerate publisher who is her word.

                          Clare MacQueen

Additionally, she, too, has lost a child, her daughter, Kelley, who passed away in 2011. So there was that bond as well.”


After the book was accepted for publication Fancher continued to write poems about her son:  she wrote “When Her Son Is Dead Seven Years”, “When You Think You’re Ready To Pack Up Your Grief”, and “Never Forget Why Your Wrist Throbs” in September of 2015.”

Never Forget Why Your Wrist Throbs

Look, when the insurance runs out,
the ulna sets itself

that clutch-at-the-railing/tumble down
two flights of Victorian stairs,
babe in your arms, your wrist

eagerly sacrificed to save him.

Twenty something years later,
after the boy gets cancer
and dies,

your body remembers,
hoards its wounds like a black hole,    
Your right wrist thicker than your left
that knobby protrusion
a talisman you rub

while the blame feeds on itself

Even now you know his death
was your fault

Even now your body
yearns for him,

the arthritic ache that pulses an
image of his face,

a supernova, each time it rains.

       Along with the poems, are Fancher’s photographs, focused on the Los Angeles skyline, a photograph of Joshua, and a self-portrait.

“The self-portrait I chose for the back cover/author photo I shot at a restaurant, shortly before my son died. In that photo I look like a train wreck, which was
precisely the way I felt. Every time I look at that photo, it takes me back to that devastation.”

       To overcome this devastation, which still persists to this day, Fancher continues to write poetry about her son and practices transcendental meditation.
       “I have practiced T.M. for decades.  It has always helped to center me. I believe in a higher power. I pray upon occasion.”

       It is during these moments of T.M, that Fancher experiences “signs” everywhere that Joshua still exists and is close to her side.

       “A psychic assured me Josh was close at hand.
Whether any of that is true, I have no idea. I keep an open mind and heart.

I took classes with Dr. Brian Weiss, a noted psychiatrist and believer in past lives. He wrote a bestseller called Many Lives, Many Masters.

He says we incarnate time after time, and that Joshua and I knew each other before and will again. I want him to be right.”

       You can reach Fancher via email at  


  1. I have never seen these photographs before. Oh my! And the stories and the poems broke, and then mended, my heart. I love you, Alexis. And thank you Chris Rice Cooper.
    Bambi Here