Feb 9, 2018

Today’s poem is “Eighty-Five” by Elizabeth Tibbetts. She’s the author of two books of poems, Perfect Selves (Oyster River Press) and In the Well (Bluestem Press). She lives in Hope and worked as a nurse.

She wrote this poem about a woman she visited when I was a home health nurse (maintaining confidentiality, of course). Elizabeth writes “She and so many other elderly people I visited had such vibrant stories. I couldn't forget them. A few years later I began writing about some of my experiences as a nurse.”

by Elizabeth Tibbetts

“Shoo” she says and waves me away
like a big fly, though she’s been happy to talk,
her lipsticked mouth taking me word by word
through her life: born in this town, never left,
widowed once, divorced twice, one daughter—
now dead—and forty years in the fish factory.

She and the girls loved every minute of it,
racing—piece work, you know. Gossip swooping
through the long room like a flock of starlings
while their hands, separate animals, filled
hundreds of tins day after day. Some days
they’d lift a big icy fish from the crate,

lay it on the boiler to steam, then eat it
with their fingers. There was never anything
so fresh. She fiddles with a button on her robe,
her nails roughly painted to match her mouth,
and, no, she doesn’t need help with her shampoo
washing her creases, soaking her swollen feet.

She looks as though she never could get out
of that chair, but somehow it’s easy
to see how she would have stood on a corner
in the South End, her feet in pumps, one hip
cocked, talking to a girlfriend, and seeming
not to notice the men from the shipyard loose
on a Saturday night in their clean white shirts.

Poem copyright © 2002 Elizabeth Tibbetts.
Reprinted from In the Well,
Bluestem Press, 2002,
by permission of Elizabeth Tibbetts.