Labor Day 2022
A Nurse’s Aide Walks Home at Midnight
Tonight, it’s Snoopy scrubs, a loose braid,
and a small bruise on her cheek,
where old Mr. Richards, lost in a smog
of dementia, lashed out, thinking she
was someone who once hurt him.
Her sneakers slap the sidewalk as she dodges
sidewalk cracks, and passes two closed restaurants,
a dusty antique store, and a church,
its sign tells her Repent, For the End is Near.
Near Dusty’s Bar & Grill, last call is ending,
and those spilling out the front door whistle
and call to her, Take My Temperature Baby.
She thinks of Mrs. Dillon who once
taught Sunday School and now mutters
Bible verses in her sleep. She thinks about
Mr. Benson who used to bartend and how he
amuses her by illustrating mixed drink
recipes with a cafeteria combination of coffee,
cream and sugar. At the corner of Chestnut
and Main she thinks about stopping
at the one open convenience store for a hot dog
or a bag of beef jerky. In five hours,
she will be up again, in six, covering a shift for a friend
whose daughter is sick. She lights a cigarette,
breathes in smoke, lemon hand lotion
and antiseptic cleansers, and turns to head home.
From the ground up,
you set the corners, nailed the frame,
laid a foundation
that’s stood over forty years so far
and will go the distance all the same.
You’re my full plate and cup
of wine, my open door,
my garden, my tree, my heart.
When it rains, you have a room
in me; when it snows, you have a bed here
to lie down. I’ll carry in more peat
for the fire and cut another cord
of wood, if needed, to keep you warm.
So set your bags down, rest your bones,
close your eyes and dream away your worries.
You built this house, love,
hand placing every brick and stone.
Now it’s time to come in from the storm.
[reprinted from Wiping Stars from Your Sleeves (Shanti Arts, 2021)]
A headache is your body’s way
of saying it needs a day off
the therapist tells me.
Take a day and don’t read, don’t write.
No vacuuming of carpets,
no washing of dishes.
Except it doesn’t feel like vacation,
not an indolent lying about
but hard labor, the headache—
an anvil on which the minutes pound themselves
into hours, and sleep—
a door slammed in my face.
Outside the bedroom window, sun
honeys the pear blossoms.
Inside, eyes squeezed closed,
forehead wrinkled. The hard-won nap
yielding dreams of all those
labors I’ve shirked. A dog I abandoned
thirty years ago barking and barking
until I wake. It’s the pointless
suffering that’s hard to bear,
and maybe all suffering
“All the birds of the air” we find in a parable,
the sparrow “sold for a farthing”
in another. But did Jesus ever
throw an arm over his forehead,
groaning, as birds
boogied and cawed outside his window?
How Gratitude Finds You
He sits hunched over the coffeeshop counter
cleaning and reassembling a carburetor,
his tools a toothbrush and screwdriver.
A coffee cup at his elbow, a pack
of Marlboros, red and white, crumpled
beside it. The waitress fills his coffee
and you watch her face as he flirts,
her brief smile. You were once
that waitress, and that young,
standing on the dented linoleum
pretending to care for the sweet-talk
of some gaunt hobo though you knew
he hadn’t money for a tip.
It’s Thanksgiving, the restaurant nearly empty,
your own family sitting at the table
at home without you, taking hands to pray
over their meal. Carburetor man
gathers his things and goes outside.
Flare of a match in the parking lot
beyond your window, his cupped hands.
Smoke wafting like grace,
like the gratitude that slips over you,
a warm blanket over thin shoulders.
For the hot turkey sandwich you eat alone.
For the knowledge that tomorrow
you’ll be home. Gratitude for this man’s life,
and for the young waitress, wringing
out a towel and scrubbing the counter clean.