Shirley Alexander

(12-05-1953 / Somewhere under heaven, Georgia, USA)

More Than She Knew


She sits by a bright, bare window
in a chair that has seen too much wet.
She is picking on days in her past,
fingers digging nervously into scalp.
Her nails are unkempt and bloody.
It’s an old habit, this searching for answers
in any place her palms can reach.

Last month it was a sore on her knee;
the month before, she became convinced
a bone was coming through her ankle.
She felt for it continuously, with vigor,
until a round bloody hole was dug.
The dirty bandage is still there,
though no one will ever visit to see it.

Sometimes she can do nothing but scream.
Her voice carries down hallways to haunt
the dreams of someone else‘s company.
Strangers wonder what torments her so.
They walk by her door; see the frail body,
eyes closed, mouth open, hands searching.
They look away, and walk away, quickly.

The young doctor comes every Tuesday
to perform a cursory update in her chart.
Depression. Obsessive. Compulsive.
Possible history of post traumatic dementia.
But, when the hall lights go down at night,
she remembers a happy house on Crystal Lake,
and a girl who searched for answers in her palm.

Submitted: Friday, April 19, 2013
Edited: Wednesday, October 02, 2013

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Poet's Notes about The Poem

I was a volunteer in a local nursing home for several years. I would help with baths, do manicures, brush hair, clean dentures, read books out loud, and (more often than not) just sit and listen. I saw so much pain.

This poem is really a compilation of many characters. There actually was a lady from a place called Crystal Lake, or so she said. There were screamers, women who scratched holes in their scalps, and one man who dug for bones in his feet. It always seemed to me that they were digging for answers, mostly as to what had happened to bring them to this place in their lives. It broke my heart every time I went, but I went, because most of them expected me.

All of the women, and sometimes the men, I talked with told me they were going home soon. None of them knew their houses had already been emptied and re-occupied by other people, usually the very family members who never visited.

I quit going to the nursing home when I started taking care of my brother. I have not been back, and most of the people I knew there are gone now. I doubt I will ever do it again. I am getting older myself, and I have already seen too much pain for my years. Still, it worries me when I think of myself, and of Richard (my adult son with Down Syndrome) , and where we might be, not so many years from now.

Comments about this poem (More Than She Knew by Shirley Alexander )

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  • Shirley Alexander (4/20/2013 11:23:00 AM)

    Thank you for reading. When I was growing up, aging parents and grandparents were kept with the family, and they made valuable contributions to the life education of younger family members by sharing of experience. (Report) Reply

  • Paul Brookes (4/20/2013 7:49:00 AM)

    Yes I know of things happening like this, so sad the way we treat our old and vulnerable people; instead of using their wisdom and treating them as venerable. Well written so vivid I was in the room. BB : O) (Report) Reply

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