The Nurse

You can feel
his fingers
can’t you

wrapped in smooth
blue nitrile
how they taper

to their ends
almost feminine
elegant, surprising

given the ten years
he’s spent holding
death’s messes

in his hands
as he cradles your chin
softly telling you

Let’s load up
you who may or may
not hear, your

eyes gazing off
into the space above us
glazed over like

warmed milk
that’s formed a skin
as he deftly slides

the Roxanol under
your tongue
Between midnight

and eight
between the meds
checking vitals, watching

your pulse bound
at the base
of your throat

he tells me things
how on nights off
those same fingers

wail on bass
in a punk band
He’s a son who

locks himself
in his room, stays up
all night, gaming

a wife he married
when they were mere
kids, confesses

death work isn’t
easy but gives him
purpose, helping others

exit this world
Stoned sometimes
but with dignity

We laugh and I drift
off, doze for a bit
and then it’s four

time to reposition you
to keep your skin
from forming sores

so we lower the rails
stand on either side
of the bed and lift

his blue hands
holding you fast
as I wipe under your ass

the backs of your legs
thin as my arm
when a sound

subterranean, I think
it can’t be human
erupts from your open

mouth and for one moment
I think of asking
the night nurse

to touch me, I’m
married, he’s married
we are standing

over your body
we have you in our arms
but I want him

with those long
blue fingers to make me
cry out too

Momma, I don’t want his
great tenderness
In my mind I beg him

Keep the gloves on
but please, take the
full dead weight of this

from me

 

 

 

 

Elisabeth Adwin Edwards’s poems have appeared in The Tampa Review, Rust + Moth, Tinderbox Poetry Journal, The American Journal of Poetry, South Florida Poetry Journal, and elsewhere; her prose has been published in Hobart, CutBank, On The Seawall, and other journals. Her work has been nominated for Best of the Net and a Pushcart Prize. A native of Massachusetts, she lives in Los Angeles with her husband and teen daughter in an apartment filled with books.