Divided into three titled sections: "What Man Might Kill," "The Nurse's Task," and "The Body Flute," the poems in this volume detail moments in the life of a nurse who is also a mother who once [in imagination] dragged her daughter from a wrecked and burning car; a daughter who stood on the stairs and listened to her mother's voice; and a lover who is aware of how her own trained clinical gaze and the gaze of desire sometimes intersect.

The poems range from a whimsical reverse-reel footage of memories that reach back to the moment of conception in "The Smoke We Make Pictures Of" to a scene from childhood when she was rushed to the hospital and came home vowing to love like the "women in white bright enough to burn / running with me in their arms"--a love she describes as "Fierce. / Physical," to a poem that imagines the life of the murderer, to poems that let us into the intimacy of a nurse keeping vigil by the dying, cleaning shriveled bodies, attending women giving birth. "I Hear the Cries of Women" is a litany of memories of "Women in the clinic waiting room" who "wanted to please / wanted to be whole / had no choice / couldn't speak / wasn't heard."

Stark and striking, these poems revel in language that calls suffering by its many names. They alter the distances we keep on pain, reframe what we are repelled by and honor the gritty, sometimes gory work of nurses who are willing to imagine the lives of their patients and lean close over the stink of decay to bless the dying.


Anyone who has nursed or been nursed, who has felt buffeted by the harshness of hospital protocols and clung to a compassionate stranger in the night will recognize in these poems what toughness of mind, resolve, and insistent, curious vitality it takes to tend the sick day after day. Not in all respects comforting poems, they offer a kind of comfort to readers who have taken in others' suffering without sometimes being sure where to channel their own.

They range in tone from those that brood and weep to those that rip off the masks of convention and tell harsh truths. Never melodramatic, they are often spare and blunt, shockingly true about experiences not often named, and rich with the ironies inevitable in moments of inexplicable loss.


Calyx Books

Place Published

Corvallis, Oreg.



Page Count