Cortney Davis, Dana Levin, Kirsten Emmott

What the Nurse Likes
by Cortney Davis

I like looking into patient’s ears
and seeing what they can never see.

It’s like owning them.

I like patient’s honesty–
they trust me with simple things:

They wake at night and count heartbeats.
They search for lumps.

I am also afraid.

I like the way women look at me
and feel safe.
Then I lean across them
and they smell my perfume.

I like the way men become shy.
Even angry men bow their heads
when they are naked.

I like lifting a woman’s hair
to place stethoscope to skin,
the way everyone breathes differently–

the way men make suggestive groans
when I listen to their hearts.

I like eccentric patients:
Old women who wear purple knit hats
and black eyeliner. Men
who put makeup over their age spots.

I like talking about patients
as if they aren’t real, calling them
“the fracture” or “the hysterectomy.”

It makes illness seem trivial.

I like saying

You shouldn’t smoke!
You must have this test!

I like that patients don’t always
do what I say.

I like the way we stop the blood,
pump the lungs,
turn hearts off and on with electricity.

I don’t like when it’s over
and I realize

I know nothing.

I like being the one to give bad news;
I am not embarrassed by grief.

I like the way patients gather their hearts,
their bones, their arms and legs
that have spun away momentarily.

At the end of the gathering they sigh
and look up.

I like how dying patients become beautiful.

Their eyes concentrate light. Their skin
becomes thin and delicate as fog.
Nothing matters anymore
but sheets, pain, a radio, the time of day.

I like watching patients die.

First they are living,
then something comes up from within
and moves from them.

They become vacant and yet
their bodies are heavy
and sink into the sheets.

I like how emptiness is seen first
in the eyes, then in the hands.

I like taking care of patients
and I like forgetting them,

going home and sitting on my porch
while they stand away from me
talking among themselves.

I like how they look back
when I turn their way.

The Nurse
by Dana Levin (from In the Surgical Theatre)

There are so many now, perched on the
headboard, opening and closing
their wings like moths. The kidney
is failing, and so many are arriving, alighting on
the blanket, the pillow,
falling around
the comatose patient, settling in drifts against the
paper gown.
You’ve been seeing this,
you’ve been watching them gather, you’ve told no
one how the buzzing
keeps growing
around the bed. Now they crowd like a sea around
the body,
listing and pushing,
the pulse of their wings lifting the current, you
can feel it,
the wind,
on the hairs of your arms, making the lamp sway,
ruffling the chart
at the foot of the bed, they are hanging from
perched on the monitor,
pressing and pressing with a rising hum, you
can hear it,
the whirring,
the din of their waiting, as they rustle and jostle
and launch with a roar,
a roar of angels swarming over the body,
burrowing headfirst
into every pore—

Annual Checkup
by Kirsten Emmott

This patient’s warm body under my hands
smells fragrant, womanly.
It’s my own perfume. This is like bathing myself
in scented bubbles.
Here’s another mother, another woman my age,
come to the doctor for a checkup.
She presents her body to me
knowing I’ve done the same things as her–
been pregnant three times and had Pap tests,
lain on couches to be examined,
to be touched, to be handled by workers
hired to take care of me.
This is like the horse standing patiently to be groomed,
the girl child waiting while mother braids her hair.

How different are the girls at the teen clinic;
resentfully submitting
to the forms and stirrups
to get their birth control pills.
They wince and shudder,
they clamp their knees together,
somehow they have made love with the boy,
it’s for him they are doing this,
but they can’t let a woman touch them,
they’re so tense that I hurt them,
much to my sorrow.
I want to tell them,
this is a mother’s care I give you.

Once you give yourself to men
you give yourself to nurses and doctors;
once you move into your woman body
you can’t move out again. Take a look around.
Look, your cervix is pretty and pink.
I’ll touch it with this little wooden stick.
That’s it. You see? Over in ten seconds.
The first of many.

Come forward into womanhood.
Put on perfume, come to the wise woman’s hut,
the midwife’s tent, the hairdresser’s little shop,
the doctor’s office.
We’ll gather around you, bring tea, braid your hair.


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