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       This little piggy cried wee wee wee

        all the way home

We cared for her and watched the furious streaks,

the flesh gone yellow, gray-green, then black,

the darkness creeping from toe to toe, from toe to arch,

till through the ruptured skin we could see her graying

muscle. We could see her bones. But we turned

her every hour, as the nurses directed, turned her

gingerly so as not to lose the softened flesh.

We lifted the ruined foot, wrapped in a paper layer,

and eased it into a garbage bag to catch its leaking.

That the bag was airless, a plastic kiln for already

burning flesh, we did not consider, doing the best

we could, doing what the nurses told us, giving

her codeine with sips of water, watching

as her urine darkened. But it didn’t matter.

She slept mostly, moaning when we lifted her head

to press a cup against her lips, moaning as we turned

her. Each day, the nurse begged her family: Reconsider,

please reconsider. How many days? How many hours?

Enough for the foot to fall from the ankle, for the Achilles’

string to slacken, rotted through, for us to reel away,

dizzied by wretchedness, afraid that we would watch

the gangrenous blackening from ankle to calf.

But at last the nurse called enough times. The son’s

wife came. She went in and hurried out, saying Oh.

Oh, we didn’t know. And we hated them.

from The Hands of Strangers: Poems from the Nursing HomeFind it in the library

Copyright © BOA Editions, Ltd 2011
Used with the permission of The Permissions Company, Inc.
on behalf of BOA Editions LTD.

Published in Janice N. Harrington Poems

This program is supported in part by a grant from the Idaho Humanities Council, a State-based program of the National Endowment for the Humanities.

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