by Peter Marcantel
She rises early and dresses with care.
Putting the finishing touch
on her makeup, she repeats the words
of a prayer that brings her comfort
when the responsibility of being a nurse
overwhelms her. She leaves when the dawn is five minutes old.
Most of her patients are old.
They need constant care
and they depend on the youthful nurse
who keeps them in touch
with life beyond the insulated comfort
of their homes. They rely on her less for drugs than for words.
She has not always understood the power of words.
Two decades ago as a twenty-year-old
she studied procedures to comfort
the sick and effect healing. She learned wound care
and memorized lists of drugs; she developed a light touch
with a needle and thought technical skills make a good nurse.
She wanted to be a good nurse.
She listened attentively, recording the words
of her instructors, awaiting the day she could touch
a real life. The classroom was getting old.
She was ready to start her career in health care,
not yet knowing that procedures don’t always provide true comfort.
Twenty years of real life have taught her how to comfort.
She is a skilled and knowledgeable nurse,
but she is good because she has learned to care
about people. She has learned that calm words
are a powerful sedative for one terrified at being old
and that kindness carries the truest healing touch.
Driving this morning, she asks for a Divine touch.
She is tired, and compassion and comfort
seem distant. She has heard the problems of her old
patients for so long she wonders: Can she continue as a nurse?
Can she continue to find meaningful words?
Can she continue to care?
Stepping across the first threshold, the nurse reaches out to gently touch withered cheeks;
old eyes water as her naturally flowing words comfort listener and speaker alike,
reminding them both what it means to care.
About this poem:
I wrote this poem for my wife, Tina, many years ago. She worked the last half of her twenty year nursing career as a home health nurse; the work and traveling was demanding, but she loved visiting and working with people in their homes. While the poem was written specifically for my wife, it serves as a tribute to all nurses for the healing work they do.
The poem is a sestina, a poem with six stanzas of six lines and a final triplet, all stanzas having the same six words at the line-ends in six different sequences that follow a fixed pattern, and with all six words appearing in the closing three-line envoi.