Young Nurse, VA Hospital, 1945

/ /

Innocence, perhaps,
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.