3. The Nurse Assists


The Nurse Assists

“Hello there,
My dear Mrs. Kemp,”
The doctor called out in his
Hearty voice. Broad backside
To her, he searched his bag.
At the sickroom,
Leaning in the doorway,
She took in the scene.
“Mrs. Kemp, my dear—
I fear I must ask,
No cigarettes.”
She blew smoke,
Walked slowly to the bed.
She sat down.
“Forget it,” she said.

He didn’t blink.
That woman, Lord, was rude—
Was worse than rude—
And no nurse, of course.
But he could speak plainly,
In her presence,
Of ills indelicate—
Those secret, leaking parts,
This baby business—
And her husband didn’t care
She left the house.
When she sat with them,
More women lived,
Even those most weak;
And she came cheap.

“I see,” she said,
“Rope tricks, once again!
Magic, ain’t it—give them one of
These, pains disappear.”
She picked up the rope,
The clenched-on hand—
“Yep. Nice and quiet,”
Sucking in some smoke:
“Palm’s raw. Pass that salve.”
The doctor tossed a tin.
“She’s out,” she said,
“I’ll peel off her fingers.”
Yawning: “I assume
You’ve yanked it out by now?”

The doctor snapped his bag.
This one, she would make it,
He thought, satisfied—
She’s young, not too spent.
Only her third try.
“Yes, the poor child’s gone. A tragedy,”
He sighed. “’Ripped untimely
From his mother’s—“
“Yeah, okay,” said Mrs. Kemp,
“I passed third grade, too.”
She unscrewed the lid
And dipped some cream: “You
Just go out and tell that scarecrow
Husband, round up sheets somewhere.
Smell is getting to me.”
She unmade the bed,
Wrinkling up her nose
And shaking quilts:
“Like a sow
Wet in her own dead litter.”

His eyes flinched,
Brows rose. “Madam,”
He said tartly,
“You’ve a way with words.
I’ll be right outside.”
He shut the door.

12 Responses to “3. The Nurse Assists”

  1. Gene Says:

    I like this Mrs. Kemp. A little rough around the edges, but a great way with words, as the doctor says.

    I’m already hooked. What happens next??!!

  2. sshaver Says:

    Gene, I have to admit, I like Mrs. Kemp too. Just as Alice Walker at the end of The Color Purple thanks all her characters for having appeared, I am thankful that Mrs. Kemp, out of nowhere, materialized for these poems.

  3. loretta davis Says:

    If course I like the nurse better for she tells it like it is. “Pain disappears”. Right. She is more personal than the doctor and more caring in her way, though perhaps not as professional. Hard to hear only her third try. She is the essence of reliable. You know when she arrives she will do what must be done, but she will not fall for any of the doctor’s rhetoric.

  4. sshaver Says:

    Loretta, I love your succinct: “She is the essence of reliable.” You really picked up on Louise quickly. She is kind of an outcast in this community, in a way that sometimes clarifies and sometimes distorts her perceptions–just as all of us, I imagine, have our thinking slanted by how we think people around us perceive us. And yes, Louise may not always be sure what’s “real,” but she knows when what the doctor says is bunk.

  5. Ann Rothschild Says:

    Ah yes, I like this one because there is a ray of hope in the desolation–a human touch, but no namby pamby–a refreshing astringency, tough and truthful. The poems are so cleverly arranged, with the introduction of the nurse sowing some doubt in the previous poem, and then we can see the scene. Marvellous…but will Riah recover?

  6. sshaver Says:

    I just finished reading a very well done verse novel which, however, had no ray of hope, and I was so sad by the end of it that I’m happy to hear you say that you see a ray now and then in this story! It’s one of the mysteries of people in oppressive circumstances, I think, that they do manage to laugh sometimes. Doesn’t take away the dark, but makes it…tolerable?

  7. Frances Madeson Says:

    “Like a sow
    Wet in her own dead litter.”

    Cruel to be kind, this nurse. This poem is hemorrhaging humanity in its evocation of the scarecrow. I’ll be thinking about that one all day.

  8. sshaver Says:

    That line is hard to take for me, too. I hope it shows Louise’s immersion in, not her coldness to, Riah’s trouble.

  9. ninjanurse Says:

    very intense, very immediate.

  10. sshaver Says:

    Thanks very much–will respond tomorrow on the Welcome Page!

  11. ninjanurse Says:

    re-reading your nurse. she’s braver than most, a lot of us don’t deal with birth and death.

  12. sshaver Says:

    Responding on the Welcome Page, ninja!

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