Showing 1 - 1 of 1 annotations associated with Deppe, Theodore
- Clark, Mark
Summary:The speaker of this poem is a nurse who is recalling and attempting to come to terms with a disturbing clinical encounter she’d had the week before. (I should note at the outset that there’s no indication in the poem as to whether the nurse is male or female. I choose to think of her as female). What had happened is that a mother had brought her five-year-old son in for treatment, and the nurse’s exam revealed that the child had second- and third-degree burns on his torso—in the shape of a cross. The mother, weeping, confessed that her boyfriend had, as a punishment, applied a cigarette to the child’s body—while the mother had held her son. Seeing the mother’s tears, the nurse considered offering the woman some Kleenex, but could not bring herself to do so. The child retrieved the box of Kleenex, then clung to his mother’s skirt, and glowered at the nurse. Then the nurse had participated with three others in prying the boy away from his mother. In the present of the poem, a week after the encounter, the nurse attempts to deal with the guilt and shame she feels in her failure of professional decorum and compassion—at having failed to rise above her moral judgment against the mother and offer the woman basic human kindness and respect. In confronting the chaos of her emotions, the nurse turns to a story she’d learned in high school: the story of St. Lawrence. The significance of her attempt to think with this story can be overshadowed, for readers, by the intensity of the clinical encounter she recalls; but her endeavor is of at least equal significance as the encounter.