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Imperfect Farewells

Judy Schaefer

I was not with my mother when she died, her heart bursting
against her ribs, screaming for a violent release from her chest
I listened, ear to phone:           nothing-more-could-be-done
          I recall her now, prayer petals of morning’s first red rose, the perfect
          Mezzo-soprano of a summer evening’s lullaby, an open window to song
Clinical colleagues reported massive myocardial infarction
I reported that I was an orphan

History reports that in extremis humans will send their children on ahead
to higher and safer ground;         Full of worry over meeting places
and full of imperfect farewells, I am awake at night harvesting metaphors
Like those faithful Londoners, I try to let my daughter go, from bunker to train,
toward fresh air, eggs, milk, warm kitchen fires, and soft yellow kittens
Back here, black on windows, I am exiled from the natural-order-of-things
A good nurse, I warrior-on, pack more arrows, remain alert, watch the blue sky

I was not with my daughter when her liver, her kidneys, were failing
Ascites, jaundice, varices: fragility surrendering to life’s steel hammer
I throw a bag into the car:           nothing-more-can-be-done
          I recall you now, elegant white tulle on a tall sway of stem,
          French tulips and Eiffel’s tower, open arms for a hungry kitten
My clinical colleagues report alcoholic hepatorenal syndrome
I report love
of pearls and pockets, your two small boys with heavy shocks of hair;
With promises to keep I remain alert and watch a cloudy sky before I sleep

About the poet:

Judy Schaefer edited the first biographical/autobiographical work by English-speaking nurse-poets, The Poetry of Nursing: Poems and Commentaries of Leading Nurse-Poets (Kent State University Press, 2006); she also coedited the first international anthology of creative writing by nurses, Between the Heartbeats (University of Iowa Press, 1995) and a second volume, Intensive Care (University of Iowa Press, 2003). She has been published in Academic Medicine, American Journal of Nursing and The Lancet. Her most recent book is Wild Onion Nurse: A Collection of 25 Years of the Poetry of Nursing in a College of Medicine Literary Journal (Radcliffe, 2010).

About the poem:

“An ironic loss poem for me, as I am wary of ‘death’ poems. I have been of the opinion that such poems have an unfair advantage because of the natural sympathy that death inspires. We all have experienced loss in some form or other; almost all poems are about death. Writing this poem about my mother and daughter, the two most important women in my life, allows me to transcend sadness and regret through the artistic form of poetry and to honor their beauty. Ultimately, the poem gives me the opportunity to explore acceptance. Like most parents surviving a child, I find ‘closure’ neither a word nor a concept. Relative to alcoholism, I make promises, hold hands and reach out through AA, Al-Anon and Alateen. This was a poem I had to write.”

Poetry Editors:

Johanna Shapiro and Judy Schaefer

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About the Poem


6 thoughts on “Imperfect Farewells”

  1. What would we do without the language of poetry? I read this poem and say Yes, Yes. Through your words and imagery I feel a renewed sense of connection to my own experiences on this planet and a deeper appreciation of the ties that bind us together. Thank you, Judy.

  2. Dear Judy,
    Wonderful to see this poem surface. Like a hand-painted bolt of fabric you have laid it out for us to see and wonder at.
    As you wrapped yourself in such love it gives us all comfort.
    Thank you

  3. This poem is wonderfully written and moving. I’ve written a few death poems and have them out in a small chap called Postscripts to the Dead. Some are about celebrities (Elvis, Paul Newman, Hemingway) and the others about people i loved. I find a tremendous release in re-reading them, just as I did with your. Isn’t any kind of loss fair game in a poem? Loss of love, loss of health, loss of friendships? Don’t avoid them for the reasons you gave The subject didn’t bias my appreciation of your tremendous talent at writing in the least.

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