“Equations of the Heart” by Jeanne Cook

Jeanne Cook, RN


She says something about harpy cuckoos
in eucalyptus trees. Maybe she had been a harpist,
or a poet, or came from a fragrant grove in California.
I heard she had been a chemist,
but now her brain is scrambled
like a pile of labyrinthine wire encrusted with plaque.

Is she trying to make connections?
Am I the harpy cuckoo, cajoling her to eat?
Or is she merely re-naming the mashed potatoes
I am lifting to her mouth, the fork now become
a tree? What is naming, anyway,
but the way to say a thing?

She will have none of the eating.
She points to a vase of flowers, sees a face,
sing-songs, Oh, see, he’s come!
But when I turn to look there’s no one there.
And now the namings fly, new equations—
hermit thrushes and hydrogen, fire and figs,

oxygen, copper and telephones. At last,
to quiet her, I point to a photograph
of a handsome man in a naval uniform.
Is that your husband? I ask. She cocks her head
and smiles. It’s there, she says,
to show we were belonged.

from Rattle #28, Winter 2007
Tribute to Nurses


Jeanne Cook, RN: “There were thousands of them in forty years—strangers I cared for and cared about in a long nursing career. A few of them, all dead now, inhabit my dreams, are part of my history. I make poems to honor them and to tell what it was to be a nurse.”

Rattle Logo