Medicine

The LPN believes in being firm. Her daughter is five, and she doesn’t allow her to meet her gaze; she always stares back until the daughter looks away. Give ‘em an inch and they’ll take a mile, she likes to say.

The woman in the next bed
moans all night: Help me, help me,
somebody, nurse.
The nurse steals in on stockinged feet.

When her four-year-old son was an infant, she would sit on him, straddling his tiny torso while her husband changed the diaper. They’re never too young to learn to lie still, she said.

In the woods behind the hospital,
trilliums bob in the sun, a white mirage.
The moss cracks open from lack of rain.

The 88-year-old great-grandmother looks on with an aching heart. Her mild suggestions carry little weight with her daughter or son-in-law, with her grandson or his wife the nurse. “They all talk to me like a child,” she tells us. “You’re the first people I’ve had an adult conversation with in months.”

Those clouds could be anything:
dogwood, hawthorn, a wild cherry
gowned in caterpillar webs.

Expected to look after her great-grandchildren half the week, she tries to make them understand that love need not be accompanied by threats or a smothering embrace. When the four-year-old kicks her, much to his outraged surprise, she clobbers back.

On the abandoned farm, a lawn chair
still sits out under the apple tree.
Petals drift down between the slats.

Back in Pennsylvania for a rare visit, she apologizes for not doing a better job of staying in touch. “I’ve been so exhausted. I can’t remember the last time I got a good night’s sleep.”

Toothwort,
spleenwort,
bleeding-heart,
hepatica:
we might fall forever if not
for that net of roots.

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