The lavender cardigan
catches my attention.
She wears it each time
I visit, and its buttons
pull the buttons' holes
until they squint.
It's hard to look away
because she rests a mauve
clipboard on her pot belly
and taps it with a hand
bedazzled by purple nail polish.
She calls patients' names
clearly and is the brightest
thing in this office dampened
by beige and chronic pain.
The fatigued furniture mirrors
the patients' postures, yet
this nurse flits like hummingbird
from office to waiting room—
everyone looks up from
magazines when she enters,
a Tinker Bell for Dr. Piernine.
In a voice even brighter
than her outfits, she talks
with patients. She sweetens chit-chat
with pleasantries from youth:
a stitch in time, Mr. Smith; really,
Mrs. Jennings, the early bird does
get its worm; now, Barney, you know
a penny saved is a penny earned.
I play a game where I guess
which turn of phrase she'll use
before she slaps the swinging
door with her palm, leads
a patient to an examination room.
When it's my turn, my crutch catches
the jamb, and I fall to the floor.
My first thought isn't profane
or apologetic—I find
myself in a terrible tangle
wondering what wisdom
or comfort this woman might
give me. It takes the edge
off my pain, this game.
She doesn't help me to my feet
right away. She squats,
lavender sweater straining
across her bosom, and sets
her clipboard on the floor
to hold open the door.
"Now Elizabeth," she says,
"we must try to make lemonade,
mustn't we?" And, I breathe
in her lilac offer to pull
me to my feet. "Up we go."
Settled on a padded table,
I wait for Doctor Piernine,
wait to be squeezed tightly,
wait to be sugared
into something lovely,
something to sip,
something to desire.
* * *
Pain seduces you slowly, until one morning
you wake to find its toothbrush in your bathroom,
its underwear in your laundry basket,
its non-fat vanilla soy milk in your fridge.
Saturday mornings, pain sips coffee with you on the sofa,
laughs over New Yorker cartoons.
Soon, you take pain home to meet your family.
It sits between you and Grandma at the long table,
leaves with you at dusk and complains bitterly
the drive home of the many miles,
the bread pudding,
the early Monday to come.
Inseparable, pain helps prepare taxes,
pick paint for kitchen walls, trim toe nails.
Each night before bed, it hums between the sheets;
pain is needy, doesn't like when you're unconscious,
wakes you the moment you dream of something else.