Can You Hear Me, Major Tom?

By Ally Malinenko


It was probably 1985. Yes, that sounds right. That would make me eight. My oldest sister, seven years my senior, ruled the stereo and record collection as oldest sisters are wont to do.

This is ground control to Major Tom….

I remember stopping to listen because unlike the shrieking spiraling weirdness of the Led Zepplin that she often played, this song was telling me a story. Crayon poised, I listened.

And in the end, was left shocked, terrified. The image of a solitary man floating out in space, alone in the vast emptiness burrowed into the very core of me.

I hated it.
I loved it.
I was intrigued.
I was terrified.

I was hooked. Then he appeared again, mythically tall, dangerously cool, as my Goblin King. My sister passed by the television as I lay there, enraptured in Sarah’s dark journey.

That’s David Bowie, she said. The guy who sings that song. She started to hum it and inside me these pieces snapped together.

And it kept happening. He would appear, in the background of my life. Hours being an album that was on constant rotation in the apartment I shared with my boyfriend. Labyrinth still showing up on my television even as a grown woman.

Should you need us….

And then everything changed. June 2014. Thirty-seven, listening to the doctor speaking, his voice tinny through my phone.

Lobular Carcinoma. Breast Cancer.

Those words bitter and hard.

On the subway ride home, I chose Ziggy Stardust. It was something else to think about. Something that wasn’t this hurricane that was growing inside me. Something that was untouchable. Eternal.

I listened nonstop. Filled in the gaps in my record collection. I wore my David Bowie shirt to all three surgeries. On my walks to radiation, I played nothing but David Bowie. It was my sword and shield. My hope and hiding place.

Should you need us….

And I did. I needed a starman to help me stitch back together the ruins that this diagnosis made of my life. I needed his voice to distract me from my premature death. I needed a starman, a hero.

In a very real way David Bowie saved my life.

Monday morning. January 11th. My husband opening the door to the bedroom. Me, sleeping in, a day off, thinking about a trip to the Museum.

"I have some bad news, baby."

I did the math. He would have been diagnosed around the same time as me. Like him, for awhile I kept my cancer a secret too.



Another word that was hard to say. How? How did I live in a world without David Bowie? How did this happen? What monster stole our starman, our Freak King, away from us?

"I hate David Bowie’s cancer more than my own," I told my husband.

"I don’t, he said."

That morning, I wrote. Because it was all I had. My small offer to the vast and empty heavens. The little bit that I could do was put into the world a piece of art. It’s what David Bowie did, down to his last breath. That gift of Blackstar.

Because you have to keep making art. It is the only thing that never dies.

Ally Malinenko is the author of the poetry collections The Wanting Bone and How To Be An American (Six Gallery Press) as well as the novel This Is Sarah (Bookfish Books). She has a forthcoming poetry collection entitled Better Luck Next Year coming out on Lowghost Press. She blathers on at @allymalinenko mostly about Doctor Who.