There is a way to drop a body atop a hard mattress,
to scrub gentle parts too hard, yank a gown
across withered flesh, to drag a weight smaller
than your own and slam it against a pillow.
There are ways to say the night is long
and there are twenty other beds to check.

There are ways to ignore chapping lips,
not to hear a rasping voice, to avoid the task
of filling a water pitcher. There are ways
to tell them, without using words, that you hate
the job, ways to leave them cold and shivering
and naked. There are ways to leave them alone.

But they had an answer, the ones we cleaned
and dressed and moved and fed and watched
over. On chair, bed, pillow, gown, on sheet,
diaper, floor, and shoe, writ repeatedly
in stinking letters: No, I am not dead.

by Janice N. Harrington

‘Protest’ is copyright © Janice N. Harrington, 2011, and reprinted from her book The Hands of Strangers: Poems from the Nursing Home, published by BOA Editions in 2011.

Notes from BOA Editions:

Janice N. Harrington writes poetry and children’s books. She grew up in Alabama and Nebraska, and both those settings, especially rural Alabama, figure largely in her writing. Her first book of poetry, Even the Hollow My Body Made Is Gone (2007), won the A. Poulin, Jr. Poetry Prize from BOA Editions and the Kate Tufts Discovery Award. She currently teaches in the creative writing program at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

The Hands of Strangers portrays the tensions and moments of grace between aged nursing home residents and their healthcare workers.  What does it mean to be a nurses’ aide in a nursing home, the lowest of the low, the typically-female worker who provides physical care for the devalued bodies of the elderly? What is it to live one’s remaining life on a county ward as an indigent elder? You can find out more about the book at BOA’s website here. Read more about Janice N. Harrington’s work and hear her read from it on her website here.

BOA Editions, Ltd., a not-for-profit publisher of poetry and other literary works, fosters readership and appreciation of contemporary literature. By identifying, cultivating, and publishing both new and established poets and selecting authors of unique literary talent, BOA brings high quality literature to the public. Support for this effort comes from the sale of its publications, grant funding, and private donations. In 2011, BOA celebrated its thirty-fifth anniversary. To find out more about BOA Editions, click here. You can also sign up for the publisher’s newsletter here, find and ‘like’ BOA on Facebook, and follow the publisher on Twitter by searching for @boaeditions.

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