It was my First Nursing Job – Belle Waring

For the rest of the year, I will be posting bits and pieces from books I’ve read this year…even if they didn’t make it on my end of the year roundup. Today’s “bit” is Belle Waring’s It Was My First Nursing Job excerpted from Word of Mouth: Poems Featured on NPR’s All Things Considered.


It was my First Nursing Job

and I was stupid in it. I thought a doctor would not be unkind.
One wouldn’t wait for a laboring woman to dilate to ten cm.

He’d brace one hand up his patient’s vagina,
clamp the other on her pregnant belly, and force the fetus

through an eight-centimeter cervix.
She tore, of course. Bled.

Stellate lacerations extend from the cervix
like an asterisk. The staff nurses stormed and hissed

but the head nurse shrugged, He doesn’t like to wait around.
No other doctor witnessed what he did. The man was an elder

in his church. He chattered and smiled broadly as he worked.
He wore the biggest gloves we could stock.

It was my first real job and I was scared in it.
One night a patient of his was admitted

bleeding. The charge nurse said, He won’t rip her.
You take this one.

So I took her.
She quickly delivered a dead baby boy.

Not long dead-you could tell by the skin, intact.
But long enough.

When I wrapped him in a blanket, the doctor flipped open the cover
to let the mother view the body, according to custom.

The baby lay beside her.
He lay stretched out and still.

What a pity, the doctor said.
He seized the baby’s penis between his own forefinger and thumb.

It was the first time I had ever seen a male not circumcised
and I was taken aback by the beauty of it.

Look, said the doctor, a little boy. Just what we wanted.
His hand, huge on the child, held the penis as if he’d found

a lovecharm hidden in his grandmother’s linen.
And then he dropped it.

The mother didn’t make a sound.
When the doctor left, she said to me in a far flat voice

I called and told him I was bleeding bad.
He told me not to worry.

I don’t remember what I said. Just that
when I escorted her husband from the lobby

the doctor had already gone home. The new father followed me
with a joyful strut. I thought Sweet Jesus Christ

-Did the doctor speak to you?
-No ma’am, the father said.

I said quick-as-I-could-so-I-wouldn’t-have-to-think-
The baby didn’t make it.

The man doubled over. I told him all wrong.
I would do it all over again.

Please, sir. Sit down. I’m so very sorry to tell you

No. It’s been sixteen years.
I would say, I am your witness.

No. I would never have told the whole truth.
Forgive me.

It was my first job
and I was lost in it.

~ by Tichaona Chinyelu on December 2, 2011.

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