The Nurses in Our Lives

June 2, 2020

In this series of recitations, Dr Richard Berlin will present a poetry with special meaning for all of us, as we cope with the COVID-19 crisis. He continues the theme of praising our nursing colleagues with Dorianne Laux's poem "Nurse."

POETRY FOR THE PANDEMIC

I am a doctor and a poet in private practice in psychiatry in the Berkshires Hills of Western Massachusetts. I am also a faculty member of the University of Massachusetts Medical School. I've been writing a poem about my experience of being a doctor every month for the past 23 years in Psychiatric Times.

In this series of recitations, I will present a poetry with special meaning for all of us, as we cope with the COVID-19 crisis. I would like to continue the theme of praising our nursing colleagues and Dorianne Laux's poem Nurse is right on target.

I remember the first time I read her poetry and I was just stunned by her gift for clarity and language and detailed observations that she brings to her work in this poem. And also, since we're close to Mother's Day, this poem is also a great tribute to all our hard working mothers.

Nurse, by Dorianne Laux - 1952-

My mother went to work each day
in a starched white dress, shoes
clamped to her feet like pale
mushrooms, two blue hearts pressed
into the sponge rubber soles.
When she came back home, her nylons
streaked with runs, a spatter
of blood across her bodice,
she sat at one end of the dinner table
and let us kids serve the spaghetti, sprinkle
the parmesan, cut the buttered loaf.
We poured black wine into the bell
of her glass as she unfastened
her burgundy hair, shook her head, and began.
And over the years we mastered it, how to listen
to stories of blocked intestines
while we twirled the pasta, of saws
teething cranium, drills boring holes in bone
as we crunched the crust of our sourdough,
carved the stems off our cauliflower.
We learned the importance of balance,
how an operation depends on
cooperation and a blend of skills,
the art of passing the salt
before it is asked for.
She taught us well, so that when Mary Ellen
ran the iron over her arm, no one wasted
a moment: My brother headed straight for the ice.
Our little sister uncapped the salve.
And I dialed the number under Ambulance,
my stomach turning to the smell
of singed skin, already planning the evening
meal, the raw fish thawing in its wrapper,
a perfect wedge of flesh.

-Awake. Copyright © 1990 by Dorianne Laux.

Music ©Bensound