Sunday, May 31, 2009

A Poem for Sunday

As you may recall, Eddie, Frank and I have been serving the residents of Heritage Hall nursing home in Leesburg with our therapy visits. This small act of service on our part is very rewarding, but also very emotionally demanding. There are often small rewards in the deep sadness that permeates the home--intangible rewards, like the flicker of happiness from a resident's eyes when they pet Frank, or a resident fawning over the beautiful and young Eddie, or the joy of recognition when a resident is truly glad to see you return and remembers you.

A poem came over the radio this week. It really struck a chord with me about these visits, and the mixture of emotions and trepidation that swirl about when visiting the elderly in a nursing home like Heritage Hall.

The Perfect Black Blazer
by Bobbi Lurie

The head nurse called to say
Mom threw a potted plant,
smashed the TV set, banged
her head against the wall.
When I got there I saw the deep
         bruise on her forehead.
She could barely speak so we sat
     mute for some minutes.
I watched her slide to the side
of the couch as she scratched
her arms, pulled at her hair.
I needed to bring her back
        so I told the story of
our Saturday excursions,
searching for the perfect
black blazer.
                  I exaggerated
the futility of finding
something immaculate like that,
something slim-fitting and neat,
able to match any pair of pants
or skirt we wore.
                         We never found it
of course but kept searching
as we watched other women
more glamorous than we were.
           When I asked if she
remembered that, she laughed
                 and said, "oh yes."
I looked around the room
into the distant faces,
haunted hair, blank stares.
"Time for lunch," a nurse yelled.
I walked Mom to her chair,
           watched the aides tie
bibs around the residents’ necks,
       leaned to kiss
Mom gently good-bye on her cheek,
   trying not to notice
she no longer smelled like
           my mother.
She had taken on the scent
of the urine-ammonia halls
and the talc caked heavy
                  on her body.
I walked out, then felt
       something strange
like a voice without words
tell me to return so I ran
                quickly back
to where she sat, her hands
         on her lap.
They were the same hands,
so I squeezed them tight,
kissed her for a second time.
Only this time I hugged
   her close,
            inhaled deep,
   took her all in.

"The Perfect Black Blazer" by Bobbi Lurie, from Letter from the Lawn.
© Custom Words, 2006. (buy now)

© Copyright 2005-2014, Scott E. Harris. All Rights Reserved.
Please do not reproduce or copy without the permission of the author.