Nursing

Courtesy of Flickr/Roco Julie (CC BY-SA 2.0).

The midwife kneeled beside me
and when she stroked my thigh

on the toilet seat I noticed the image
of a baby tree, wavering in the deep-

rust stain of the clawfoot tub, splindy
and leafless. I could not pee.

My newborn son was pink, waiting
in the bed to feed and I remembered

the nights my father woke me
and walked me sleepily through

the hall and sat on the tub’s edge until
I peed because I held the fluid all day

and so every night I wet the sheets and we
had no washer and not enough sheets

and then one day it stopped. One night
at seventeen when I was in a hospital

and could not move I lay in wet sheets
listening for the night nurse

who hated me and I hated her
because of the way she flicked

on the lights and whipped
the curtain back, but that night

a nursing student came instead.
She wore a cap like Florence

Nightingale from the book with
the blue pages—her lantern lifted

above dark fields. The nurse’s face
was a dim moon and her eyes

gleamed behind enormous glasses
where I saw my own. She lifted me

gently to the chair and let me lie
against it while she changed the sheets.

I still see her face. I dream of it the way
my girlfriend remembers her dead mother.

Jessica Cuello is the author of four poetry collections including Liar, selected by Dorianne Laux for the 2020 Barrow Street Book Prize and Yours, Creature is forthcoming from JackLeg Press in spring of 2022. Cuello has been awarded The 2017 CNY Book Award, The 2016 Washington Prize, The New Letters Poetry Prize, a Saltonstall Fellowship, and The New Ohio Review Poetry Prize.

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