5. At Bedside

She said nothing,
Lying in the bed.
She could not be waked up.
The sheets, changed,
Were clean.
Gown was dry.
Body quiet, pale.
Riah McKenna?”
Mrs. Kemp called to her, now
And then, low-voiced, judging
It was not yet time.
Mrs. Kemp pulled up a chair,
And settled in.

I’m sure glad
You lost a load tonight.”
She spoke free,
Expecting no reply.
“I swan, me at home,
Stir-crazy as a
Penned-up bull.
Bo’s downing quarts,
Two bottles–I bust out.
I wind up here. Here’s
One night I bought peace.”

She surveyed the bedroom:
Mostly bare. Shabby
Curtain. Chairs and table, in
The kitchen, a few sticks.
Staring at the pattern
On the quilt, she
Sank in her thoughts.
She nodded off.
Crickets softly throbbed
Out in the yard.
Sparrows stirred
And chattered in the dark.
Mrs. Kemp’s head
Snapped up: could
Lose patients this way!
She stretched awake. She
Looked down at the face.

Not bad, she thought,
As such faces go. So
Light, that she hardly
Dents the pillow–
Oh, those skinny girls!–
But her shoulders, broad,
And arms were strong:
Field work, sure.
Under her gown, flat.
Dark-skinned, Louise thought,
Although now she lay, pale
Yellow-white, the temples
With blue veins–broad
Brows, broad mouth, broad nose,
Big eyes–likely brown–brown
Hair, Injun straight and thick,
Longer than the style this year–
Like my hair, she thought, mine’s
Longer, too. Lord–ought to
Cut mine short.
Town would grow theirs longer
Double quick, so anxious
Not to look like me.

She laughed out loud, coughed,
And checked her patient.
Steady breathing rose and fell,
The lips apart.
Louise lingered
On the darkened eyelids.
No prissy face, she thought:
Lays open, wide.

Hope when this one wakes
She won’t put up a fuss
She lost it.
I think not.
If she woke up now,
What would she say?
Mrs. Kemp felt for the pulse–
Might be glad to see me,
Since I sat here.
She’ll say, “Can’t you come
For supper Sunday? I’m
So grateful!” on and on,
Or–the way most do–
She’ll cry, pay me no mind,
Not at all.
Mrs. Kemp gave Riah’s wrist
A pinch–
I’ll leave her here,
Before then.
I’ll go home.

Thinking “home,”
She squirmed against her chair.
Mrs. Kemp tucked sheets
Around her patient.
This one, she would live.
But not next time–
She’s in a bad way,
Torn all wrong.
Where’s the cigarettes?
“Too bad, honey,” she said.
“Life shits.”

Brown hair strewn,
The drawn face lay, unknowing.
Unchanging, it
Turned toward Mrs. Kemp:
Harmless. Dreamless.

5 Responses to “5. At Bedside”

  1. Frances Madeson Says:


  2. seanclifford Says:

    This is a really lovely poem. I was directed here by Loretta Davis and am glad she sent me this way! The poems (in terms of subject matter and lyricism — but not in terms of form) remind me of Carl Sandburg.

    This is a great site, and well-organized. I will continue to pore over the content!

    Sean Clifford

  3. sshaver Says:

    Sean, I’m moving your comment to the Welcome Page comments and will respond there!

  4. ninjanurse Says:

    I like to stop in to spend time with your nurse-midwife.

  5. sshaver Says:

    You are welcome–most welcome–and I’ll be responding to you on the Welcome page by the end of this week.

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