1.  Mom spends all her time saying thank you.

whole dinners
arrive at the door,
phone calls
assurances of prayer
and being there
if something is needed,
offers to pick up the children
the laundry
tidy the house
run errands.

She’s so attuned
to gratitude
that as each new symptom
presents itself
it’s all she can do
to stifle the urge
to receive it with thanks,
tell everyone
how truly fortunate she feels,
how blessed.    

2.  Mom has celebrated five days of feeling so much better.

That’s what it comes down to?
what you suffer for,
eking out a living
from the hard scrap
of this illness?

five good days
counted out begrudgingly
by some miserly paymaster
with a raspy voice
who points and says
Sign here?

And what can you do
with five good days
   six kids
   a spouse
   a house
   and a cat–

fly to Tahiti
and lie on the beach

As profligate
with your five good days
as the child with five loaves
and two fishes

I picture you out among the crowd
gladly giving them away.

3.  We’ve made Mom’s pillow the crying pillow
     and we all take turns.

Joy buries her face
in the crying pillow.
It is her turn
to throw herself down
on the made-up bed
    her mother’s wide bed
    her mother’s soft pillow
and sob out her grief
with the whole
of her ten-year-old self.

A mound of wet tissues
grows up around her.
First lesson of this motherless life–
you wipe your own tears
then, dry-eyed and limp,
    you breathe a sigh
    you rise.

About the poet:

Veneta Masson is a nurse and poet living in Washington, D.C. She has written three books of essays and poems, drawing on her experiences over twenty years as a family nurse practitioner and director of an inner-city clinic. Information about her poetry collection Clinician’s Guide to the Soul is available at sagefemmepress.com.

About the poem:

“Several years have passed since she died, but I still vividly remember receiving dispatches from what I thought of as ‘the house haunted by illness’–my sister’s house. Some I witnessed. These three took root in my imagination and eventually resulted in a trilogy of poems. I offer them as a tribute to my sister, our family and all the other families who share our experience. It’s also my hope that they’ll open the door a little wider to clinicians who wonder (as I have wondered) about their patients’ lives outside the hospital or clinic.”  

Poetry editors:

Johanna Shapiro and Judy Schaefer          


About the Poem

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9 thoughts on “Observations”

  1. Thank you Veneta,
    You have helped us look sideways at a sister’s home and legacy and what that means to the entire family. This is a treasure trove of memory. Thank you again for your beautiful poetry.

  2. Congrats on a fantastic poetry cycle. I also treasure your postcard poems, and have been pleased to share them with others here and in Europe. Thanks for sharing!

    Carol near Baltimore

  3. Veneta,

    Beautiful poem about the deep and complex effects of illness on a family. I remember some of your poems published in the AJN and think you edited 2 stories I wrote for the journal.

  4. Veneta, what a lovely and moving poem! Thank you for writing it, for sharing it. So many houses haunted by illness; your trilogy takes us inside those sad houses in a particularly compassionate way.

  5. Veneta, this trilogy of poems…truly beautiful and resonates with me so much, not only within my own family but memories of when I worked as a clinical chaplain for 20 years. I also wrote a book based on my experiences with patients and families, Waiting Rooms of the Heart. Amazon.
    Congratulations and continue with your beautiful poetry.
    All the very best to you. Josie

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