The Watch

Photo Credit: knowitallnanna via Google Images

She sits at her post today,
as she does everyday—
early morning,
late afternoon—
she’s there.

Trains clouded eyes,
(once blue,)
on the desk where visitors sign in,
gnarled hands folded in her lap,
hands that once gave pleasure
and care.

Beneath etchings
on her weathered face
I conjure youthful beauty,
presume pride taken

each Tuesday
in preparation for stolen moments
with her lover—
the rogue who left her
and their child.

“Gabriel n’est pas encore arrivé”
she sighs at the end of every watch—
the only words she speaks
all day, everyday.

Dust motes dance as fading sun
slices through crisp evening air.
She shuffles down the hall
to the room she shares with Marquerite,
wearing loneliness
like a purple shroud.

Forty years, or more, have passed.
Her son, I wonder—
did he ever visit?

Today at dVerse Poets’ Pub, Stu McPherson invites us to mix up a blend of the melancholy and the beautiful. My thoughts took me back many years, to when I lived and nursed in France, in the Jura.

Much of my career was involved with working with the elderly. This story-poem is a fictionalized account of a woman in a nursing home environment. The reality is that she did, indeed, spend her days waiting for Gabriel to visit. (Funny–I remember his name, not hers). All the rest is fiction. As far as I know, she had no one. Her son, Gabriel, may have been dead, or…who knows?. The lives of older people are ripe for speculation.

I’ve always sought to remember that the aged have histories. Looking with care, one can see the beauty and joy (or sorrow) that may once have been theirs. This poem needs a lot of work, but it’s my offering for today’s Poetics. Critique welcome!

Medicine–Five Sentence Fiction


Nursing Home

Nursing Home (Photo credit: LOLren)

The same question that had hounded her for years continued to pummel Irene: At the end of my life, what will I have to show for it?

The answer, she decided, wasn’t in this place—a box-like room full of white sheets, a white blanket, a white commode and the sickly smell of urine, feces and vomit.

She dragged her legs to the edge of the bed, grabbed the rubber handles of her walker, encrusted with the grime of three weeks in the nursing home, and made her way to the apple red crash cart parked down the hall where she copped a vial of potassium chloride, a 22-gauge needle, a syringe and tourniquet from the drawer that should have been locked.

After signing herself out against medical advice, she took a taxi home—her happy yellow house with the flower boxes on the window sill that had just come into bloom—the place where she had chosen to die.

Purty, her calico cat greeted her at the door, purring and winding herself about the ankles of the old nurse, who suddenly realized that the medicine stashed inside her purse wasn’t what she really wanted, not as long as Purty needed her.

Shared with Five Sentence Fiction over at Lillie McFerrin’s blog, where this week’s prompt is Medicine. Perhaps you’d like to join us with a Flash Fiction of your own!

Boxes–A Short Story for MMWP

Christian Nursing Home

My submission for MMWP is a short, short story (fiction) for a change, inspired by my former nursing career. I’ve added a little explanation at the end. The prompt for this week was Labor/Work. Hope to see you there.


At the end of your life, what will you have to show for it?

The question hurtled across the dark room and caught a ray of light as it passed the door that someone had left ajar. Institutional light.

What’ll you make of yourself? The words howled down the corridors of a time past when she had allowed other people to define her life.

She pulled the ratty shawl she’d knitted tight about bony shoulders covered by a layer of crepe-like skin and rued the dropped stitch she hadn’t bothered to catch as it slipped yet another row towards the mustard-stained fringe.

At the end of your life, when death draws near . . .

The question bounced around in her skull like ping-pong balls in a Lucite box smeared with little kids fingerprints. It was powered by air, she recalled—a project at a science fair that demonstrated random molecular movement? Yes, that was it.

The box was broken now. Molecules split to atoms to neutrons, protons and electrons. And more recently, quarks—whatever the hell they are.

The shattered box of her beliefs, strewn about and discarded like clothes too tight and out-of-style. Like toe-crushing shoes.

She fingered the blanket, threading her fingers in and out of woven sterile cotton: institutional warmth, or lack thereof.

The conundrum chased her around the corners of decades. It unfurled and breathed heavily on the nape of her neck–raspy, persistent. Or was that her roommate once again in respiratory distress?

Her hands lay before her. They were still now—old, used hands with see-through skin. Gnarly knuckles that appeared warped and disfigured like twigs from the oak tree in her backyard. (At home, not in this place).

Hands that had touched, caressed, soothed. Healed even. And sometimes caused pain.

Her distended veins bulged: rivulets crossing the map of her life. She pushed back her skin, stopped the flow, released, and watched dark corpuscles stream back in, carrying life-giving oxygen to her cells. One more day of life—or at least a part of one.

Good-looking veins, she thought, but deceptive like her life had been. Stick a needle in that fat one and it’ll blow or roll.

That’s what fifty plus years of nursing did for her. The knowledge of veins, arteries and blood. And shit, piss and vomit. And worse—much worse. At the end of her life, what would she have to show? That she could read blood vessels?

Service can pass for love, she knew.

If she were her own patient, what would be her diagnosis of herself. Her mind clicked into scientific mode and she began to reflect.


There was the hard, hard heart she carried in a steel box inside her hollow, hallow chest. This woman can’t afford to feel in the face of so much loss: dead babies, dead everyone. Nope, too dangerous look at the subjective. Think it’s better to pass on that one.
A cool breeze blew in from nowhere, walked down the juts of her vertebrae and settled at the base of her spine. Fanning out, the chill expanded and squeezed about her body to embrace the emptiness.


Well, these were the facts. Two dead husbands; one dead daughter; a son gone missing; a divorce. Six dead dogs, one cat still alive. Not much money in the bank; a vacant, paid-for house, watched over by a neighbor (along with the cat, of course). A 12’ X 7’ cubicle in a room of three old ladies, surrounded by beige curtains—a hiding place, a box. 13K plus change in credit card debt and no one to leave it to. Ha-ha. A mind that bounces from here to there, imprisoned in a withered body; layers of skin that hang like empty sacks; lost promises.

A memory tossed her into the past: the day they’d painted their house a bright yellow with white trim: the happiness of the color and the joy of standing hand-in-hand with her second husband—the one she really loved because he loved her, too.

She shooed that thought away. Can’t afford to feel, remember?


The box is smashed and fragments of a life that could have been poured out. The diagnosis is clear: Altered reality; meaning deprivation related to . . .” To Nothing.

She’d read an obituary that morning about a woman who had it all wrapped up and tied with a bow, it claimed. Died in profound peace, it said. This mother, wife, friend knew where she wanted to go and went there, or something to that effect. They outlined it for the obituary readers: died surrounded by loved ones who would attend the funeral in the church, it promised. Neatly placed in her box. Amen.


That’s what she needed: the answer to the question, she decided, wasn’t in this place. She knew it wasn’t this—not a box-room filled with white sheets, white blankets and a white commode chair. Not the sickly smell of urine and dirty dentures and not a hand-knitted shawl with a dropped stitch and a mustard stain on gray yarn.

She needed a plan with color.

Dragging her legs, numb with cold, to the edge of the bed, she reached for her walker and grasped the rubber handles encrusted with grime—particles of food and feces—and hauled her ass into a standing position. She shuffled slowly into the open corridor with its fluorescent white sheen. Her droopy butt lay bare for all the world to see beneath the open back gown of flimsy gray and pink cross-hatched fabric bleached almost white.

She crept along the hall, stopping briefly at the crash cart that reminded her of OPI “Big Apple Red” nail polish. She palmed the vial of potassium chloride from the unlocked drawer of the cart, concealing it along with a 22 gauge, 1” needle and 5cc syringe. A scarf would do for a tourniquet, she figured and alcohol was academic, wasn’t it?

Approached by the evening shift nurse she requested an AMA. The LPN called the social worker but patient rights won out. As she signed the papers discharging her Against Medical Advice, the team called a taxi and the MD then helped her box her few belongings.

The plan was coming together.

At the end of your life, what will you have to show for it? The phrase rattled in her tin box heart as she slipped the key into the lock of her front door.

Musty odors of cat litter and un-lived-in, unclean linens overwhelmed her.

Purty, her cat mewled with excitement, threaded between her legs, stroking her back to life. Exhausted, she plopped into the overstuffed chair in the front room. A burst of dust enveloped her, but she was home.

She sat there till the early morning sky allowed light to slither around the edges of the curtains.

Purty curled up in her lap and purred and purred. Reaching over she pulled the blinds allowing sunlight to fill the room. Yellow sunlight bounced off yellow walls in her yellow house. It was still there, the yellow she remembered. Joy slipped in.

She thought about the drug stashed in her purse with the syringe, but let it be for the moment. Stretching out her weary limbs, she stood as Purty leaped to the floor.

I need another day she thought and decided in that moment it might be wise to reevaluate her plan. Instead, she wandered through her house in search of color and meaning. Purty, her calico cat, followed her everywhere.

At least have time to find something to show, she told herself, smiling that the last words on her chart were AMA, not RHC. Respirations Have Ceased. Smiling that she was, indeed, OOB.

No, not Out Of Bed. Out of the box.

As a nurse, I spent much of my time working with the elderly. This fictional account imagines how a retired nurse could feel about her life…if she didn’t have something to turn to–like writing! A bit of an explanation: in nursing, we applied the scientific method to patient assessment using a method called S.O.A.P–that’s what the Subjective (How are you?) Objective (What the nurse can notice) Assessment (Making a nursing diagnosis) and Plan (What to do about it) refer to. Don’t know if this is how it’s done right now…but it’s a good way to problem solve in any life situation. Try it with a problem you’re facing!

Thursday Poets’ Rally–“Wounds”

A birch—
smooth bark dotted
with eyes—
omniscient voyeur
spying on passersby.
Down its trunk
a scar splays open.
Wide, like a wound
I used to pack with sterile gauze
and normal saline.

(My patient’s name
was Forrest.)

In the gutter, red blossoms
from a nearby
Indian Paint Brush
pile in heaps
like clotted blood.

Forrest’s gash—
the result of a barroom brawl—
or so he’d told me—
never healed.
He didn’t bleed to death.
Just died by the inch,
lost the will to fight
when the woman went off
with his opponent.

The tree has been like this
for years.
Over time some miscreant
continues to inflict like damages
on other branches.

Monday Morning Writing Prompt 9-5-10

Today in the U.S.A. we celebrate Labor Day. It marks the end of the traditional season for summer vacation. School children return to class and signs of colder weather begin to creep in to our awareness.

For today’s prompt, I’d like you to consider the topic of work. Manual labor, industry, health care, education, manufacturing. Whatever. Perhaps you’d like to visit your own current or past work situation or that of someone close to you. Write your thoughts in prose or poetry and add a link to your blog or website so that others may share in your reflections. (Trust me, if you are looking to increase visitors to your pages, you will.)

This is a poem I wrote a while back. It’s a look at nursing (my profession) from the other side of the gurney.

The Other Side 

I watch her hurry by—

features drawn.

An aura of anger

thrusts her forward

like a rocket booster.

Too many patients?

She doesn’t glance my way.

No time to read my pain.

Fear closes in on me.

Rigid steel

cradles my aching body.

Enjoying the Process of Writing

As a nurse, I was somewhat oriented to an outcome-based mentality. As part of the health care team, I assessed and evaluated patient needs, defined goals and the actions I would take to meet them…then followed the steps I’d outlined. In a sense, this trapped me in the future. My sense of success depended on reaching those goals. Patients counted on me to succeed, as well..even when those goals were palliative rather than curative.

My goals as a writer include outcomes, of course. Specifically, that of publishing. But the joy I find in writing lies so much more in the process, the excitement in discovering ideas pouring onto paper (or a computer screen) as words–ideas that surprise you most of the time.

And so, I revel in the moment that I enter that zone and allow the creative Spirit to flow through. How many are able to experience that in the daily humdrum of work?

Love (in the True Sense of the Word) Poem

Our writing springs from our lives. As a nurse, I dealt, for the most part, with the elderly and dying. Many of my patients had Alzheimer’s or similar forms of dementia. When I participated in the PAD Poetry Challenge, one of the prompts was to write a love poem. This one didn’t make my final cut, but I thought I’d put it out there. Real love endures all the many losses associated with aging.

“Sweet Romance”

I can’t forget those eyes–
silver-blue like
meadow flowers
that looked into mine,
pierced my soul.

Your touch,
velvet smooth,
sparked shivers,
fire in the core of my body.

The heady scent,
lily of the valley,
flooded the room
when you walked in.

Sweet as honey,
the taste of you

Flowing from your lips
each word you spoke hangs
like a note of music
fills my head
with haunting melody.

Where do you hide?
Your body a husk
of who you used to be.
You finger the fringe of
a shawl wrapped around
fragile shoulders.
You look at me
but don’t remember
who I am.