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Poetry and Medicine
June 22/29, 2005

The Night Nurse

Author Affiliations

Poetry and Medicine Section Editor: Charlene Breedlove, Associate Editor. Poems may be submitted to jamapoems@jama-archives.org.

JAMA. 2005;293(24):2974. doi:10.1001/jama.293.24.2974

Certain of them come into the room, backlit,
elongated shapes in the doorway.
They are the ones whose kindness
precedes them.
They arrive like beneficent air.
They approach through a crack of yellow light,
bearers of the white fluted cup,
its capsule of kind hours.
In my hallucinated state
they metamorphose into flowers,
(their enfolding blooms, their breath
throaty in the humid air) elided
by the fragrance of their lotions—called-up
gardens with small lamps. Or, the cicada of one
attenuated voice, its music that emerges from shadow.
I drift in a crib among warring darks.
Not in the clangor of day, in the muffled confusion
of carts and call bells, the outright gaggle of
the corridors, their hue and outcry,
can I make out the dim shape of my life
approaching like an imperiled footfall.
Aides arrive and depart with counted towels.
IVs attach me to this day’s toll—
its light, ineffectual, a supplicant’s.
I know, (with the gathering up of dark
like a gown,
with the re-arrival of the Night Nurse,
her face like a paled miner’s lamp
that illumines the pitch of dark),
I must calibrate night’s inexact tenor,
its voice from the interior, sibilant: Body, be calm.
Come again, Day, becalmed as a barque.

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