caused her to gasp and hold that memory for seventy years:
her leaning against the desk at the nurses’ station,
going over meds
with the head nurse,
then a young sailor rolling up in a wheelchair.
Could they give him something
for his pain? His legs and feet are killing him.
She looks down at his scarred face,
his narrow shoulders wrapped in a khaki shawl,
his hands folded in his lap, then . . .
But I always knew what was coming, even the first time
I heard the story. Her grimace tipped me off.
And each time the story was repeated –
often three times in one visit –
I chalked it off to senility.
Now looking over the house
with only a stick or two of mildewed furniture,
the sagging deck, the ragged yard,
the downed fence,
I see that story clearly as an explanation –
the two bandaged stumps
a warning against the pain of absence.