4:57 am, Sunday
This week went
from caring with hope
for a lucid patient to facing
reality in advocating sanity
to an insane extended
family to haggling with specialists
to giving up time
and again telling Mary
she was dying and then watching
her cling to her lost life like
everyone else to
finally withdrawing all care
except for comfort
and comforting the now lucid family
while the breaths became
and the pauses
cried, including myself,
the last one
It was raining
when they called me. The family
My matched set of nonagenarians
is almost two hundred years old
and nearing escape velocity.
They are failing to thrive with a vengeance.
They have outlived everyone
except the powers of attorney
for whom they are a source of consternation.
Their constipation is prune-proof.
They scratch where it itches till it bleeds
and call on me to staunch the bleeding.
They can’t recall our earnest conversations.
Adult Protective Services
their indignation reflex. They ready, aim
their walkers at the social worker.
Pride goes before their falls.
In their home every room
Come Medicine Buddha
Come shine your rays upon me
Penetrate deep within my body
To quell my queasy stomach
And soothe my aching bones.
Let those golden arrows
Shoot deep within my frame
Extinguishing the round tumors
That live inside of me.
Like a pool cue poised and ready
Aim straight for the triangle
Number 6 in right side pocket
Red 4 to far left corner.
Knocking away each colored ball
Dropping steadily into the pockets
Clearing away the hard assortment
Until only white and black remain.
The 8 ball holding fast
White blood cell gearing
I finally sleep
Pushing my shoulders,
the technician wakes me
“Come now, we need
a chest x-ray”
Smiling, she pulls me
The x-ray machine
tight against me
Finally getting a chance,
I ask what she is doing
“Oh,” she says “I have
the wrong one
You are not a 64
year old male”
Lying me down,
she walks away
As I fall back to sleep,
I wonder, now bald
what I must
About the poet:
Kathleen Grieger has published poetry in many venues, including Free Verse, Caduceus, Blood and
In Latin it means care,
conjures priests and temples
the laying on of hands
How far we have come.
has neatly expunged
these purely human elements.
Cure is impersonal, consequential
unequivocal, sometimes violent–
of the thing that ails.
approaching the patient
has discarded temple garb
for practical scrubs.
His gloved hands
unsheathe the magic bullet,
shoot it through the central line
where it locks onto the target cells.
For the not-yet-cured,
there is still sacred pilgrimage–
that dogged slog
I couldn’t erase their words,
catch the breath atoms, stuff
them between lips,
couldn’t raise survival rates,
lottery odds dependent on cells suctioned
at the precise moment.
Your chest thumping, frantic,
valves siphoning warmth, drawing
cold through vessels, to your feet
crisping leaves beneath us while
you spoke her life.
Replaying slowly, baby girl, toothless
smile, creative toddler scissoring
Barbie hair (and styling hers to match).
Then, like a runner, sprinting
to that day the tumor revealed
itself, unveiled her future and yours.
You visioned her mane, now extinct,
loose, straight, gracing the crook
The women of Victoria Ward.
The laughter of Liz,
before there were good prostheses
left, right or bilateral
were built into the cup size of your choice.
Pacing the corridors
Ready to go home.
Building her strength
with a strand of yarn
Tumbled upwards from the empty cup
against that scarlet scar
beneath the bodice
of her bright summer dress.
watching feces pour
in a torrent
down her abdomen
searing her flesh
until I bathed her body
changed the bed
and wiped away
You were right.
That IV was no good.
Looking at his arm all swollen like that,
I thought, “That says it all.”
I’m sorry we kept bothering you.
“Please don’t wake him for vitals,”
You told us.
Sometimes we don’t see the signs.
I was hoping she would stay home longer,
That you would have had more time together.
She liked starting school every September.
She loved that backpack.
I’m sorry it always took so long
To get into the room.
I’m sorry I took so long to call you back.
I liked our
We used to trade off,
He hated trees dying in our living room.
I always loved the blue spruces
decorated on my December birthday
But his father fell near theirs
dying in their living room
one childhood night.
So we’d have a year with tangled lights, a crooked stand
he sometimes helped me put together
Then a year with presents stacked on the corner table,
with no dry needles to sweep.
Turn and turn again
a solstice pendulum.
A ring for each alternating year
That was before the fog that eats my