by Janice N. Harrington
Harrington. The Hands of Strangers. Poems from the Nursing Home. Rot
This little piggy cried wee wee wee all the way home We cared for her and watched the furious streaks, the flesh gone yellow, gray-green, then black, the darkness creeping from toe to toe, from toe to arch, till through the ruptured skin we could see her graying muscle. We could see her bones. But we turned her every hour, as the nurses directed, turned her gingerly so as not to lose the softened flesh. We lifted the ruined foot, wrapped in a paper layer, and eased it into a garbage bag to catch its leaking. That the bag was airless, a plastic kiln for already burning flesh, we did not consider, doing the best we could, doing what the nurses told us, giving her codeine with sips of water, watching as her urine darkened. But it didn't matter. She slept mostly, moaning when we lifted her head to press a cup against her lips, moaning as we turned her. Each day, the nurse begged her family: Reconsider, please reconsider. How many days? How many hours? Enough for the foot to fall from the ankle, for the Achilles' string to slacken, rotted through, for us to reel away, dizzied by wretchedness, afraid that we would watch the gangrenous blackening from ankle to calf. But at last the nurse called enough times. The son's wife came. She went in and hurried out, saying Oh. Oh, we didn't know. And we hated them.