hospice nurse

by Billy Howell-Sinnard
The Writer's Block
Second Place, December 2014
Judged by Philip Belcher


up late
the dying have paperwork
i must complete

it says nothing
about their living

i want to be up early
not miss the blood moon
the total eclipse
in the first hours of morning

dreams are about to say
something i won’t remember

a shadow
over my mind
will disappear

i’ll know
a good thing happened
without a trace


The starkness of these lines shows how content and form can complement each other in the hands of a skilled poet. Even in their brevity, however, the lines are nuanced. Consider the second stanza: “it says nothing / about their living”. The ease with which the reader comprehends the double meaning—the paperwork neither describes the patient’s life nor forecasts more life in the future—amplifies its power. Nothing is opaque here; rather, it is honest and plain. The final stanza, too, is revealing. Having mentioned in preceding stanzas the blood moon and the eclipse, forgotten dreams, and a shadow that has disappeared, the poet ends in a moment of contemplation: “I’ll know / a good thing happened / without a trace”. Like the shadow, the moon, and the dream, a life can pass with no trace but what lives for a time in memory. --Philip Belcher

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