“Nursing Internship, LA County, 1990” by Tracy Klein

Tracy Klein, RN, MS, FNP


As the cancer patients died you smoked
Another cigarette down by the dormitory pool, arm
Dangling in the airless heat. A big
Pink swimsuit wrapped you like a blanket.
We’d wrestled the pool from the medical students
For the afternoon, as they studied up on bones.

I was swaddling newborns all summer,
Purple heads aiming for the room air. Their
Bewildered mothers cradled them, fingers starred
In green tattoos, while palm trees waved
A first hello. It’s a rough life:
The scratch of bad guitars outside the
Chicken Hut, girls trying on sunglasses so the men
Can’t see their eyes. Often it’s a candle or a prayer between
Themselves and death: a glance, a finger sign.

You fed the public hospital patients through various tubes
And afterwards drank private drinks down by the beach.
“It always starts so small” you say
Gesturing at the loss of whole limbs and breasts,
The smallness of their cancer growing. Released from
Work, I see the babies nightly in my dreams.
They rock themselves in plastic Bassinets.
Reach up with toes and fingers wiggling,
Proud of all their parts.

from Rattle #28, Winter 2007

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