“Ode to the Bedpan” by Janice N. Harrington

Janice N. Harrington


Consider the arching hips, the buttocks
squeezed, thrust upward and then pressed
to that metal lip, almost sexually. Consider
the bedpan—shit bucket, hat—its adaptable
demeanor: triangular, oval, saddled, slippershaped,
sloped, enameled, plastic, antique
porcelain, disposable, yellow to match the pitcher
and the plastic glass, spoon-colored or blue,
the faithful servant who bears away
the human ordure, its stench and its dye-free tissues.
Feel its patience. A bedpan waits more placidly
than a woman curbing her dog. Washed out,
it is used again. How many buttocks and thighs
has a bedpan cradled? How many beds has it
sat upon? The warmth of a bedpan
forgotten beneath a sleeping rump. The floor-
jarring percussion of a bedpan dropped
on the night shift. Consider its calm,
its kindness, really, that a bedpan accepts
these urges, spillings, the bowel’s complaining,
and the voweled protest. It does the job
assigned to it. Thigh, buttock, hip, the hand
that takes it away, embarrassment—
it is all the same. Shame—yes—but
that too is easily sluiced, nothing that anyone
should keep or have to sleep with. Bedpans
do not judge us. They are a measure
of humility, a scoop, a shovel, a gutter,
a necessary plumbing, the celebrant of hierarchy
and the social order, pleased to be lifted
by darker hands paid the minimum wage.

from Rattle #31, Summer 2009
Tribute to African American Poets


Janice N. Harrington: “I worked my way through college as a nurses’ aide in several nursing homes. I am still haunted by the memory.” (website)

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