State Home

A mile down fields back of the farm
after scrubbing all day with the kids.
But there was the linen room.
I’d put a pail by the door,
kind of get in behind a big trunk
and pull blankets over. Not many called out;
between rounds I’d catch a few hours.
Nights weren’t too bad that way.
Bedpans and sponging, of course, and the doses
the nurse left instructions for,
and the women who’d scream and scream if they heard you
and the old men who wouldn’t swallow,
even if you took their hands away they never stopped sobbing.
But what no one liked was a laying-out
and that shift was when they’d die. One evening
the day staff all left laughing at me:
an old lady was going to go.
I had her with me all down the halls
the rattle was that loud.
About three it changed and I knew.
But I had whisky hidden for the cramps every month
or they’d get so I couldn’t work:
I slipped her some and she quieted.
I did that each time she choked.
They were wide-mouthed in the morning;
she hung on three days
and it wasn’t me when she finally went.

:: Amanda Powell, in Going for Coffee (1981)

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