Forsaking All Others Part 5

Alice Duer Miller 1874 (New York) – 1942 (New York)

I

TRAINED nurses, trained nurses everywhere­
Trained nurses by night, trained nurses by day -
In the corridors, on the stair,
Looking for towels, carrying a tray;
Saying, 'you mustn't,' 'you must,' 'you may.'
Smooth as to hair, stiff as to skirt,
Kind in a cool, impersonal way,­
Angels of mercy, bright-eyed, alert,
Hard young angels, sent to avert
That older angel of dark despair ­
Stiff starched angels, a trifle curt ­
Trained nurses, trained nurses everywhere.

II

A WHITE figure spoke from the doorway
In a tone deliberately bright:
'Would you like to see the patient
For a moment, and say goodnight?'

Shepherded in like a stranger
He stood beside her bed,
Gazed at those pale, blank eyelids
In that carven ivory head.

Took her hand and heard her
Murmur: 'Is that you, Jim?'
But he knew she was very tired ­
Tired even of him.

Too much spent with the struggle
Of drawing breath to afford
A brief smile - utterly weary,
And more than utterly bored.

III

NEVER before had Ruth been out of reach:
Barriers had been - but only of his making.
Now she had passed beyond the power of speech,
Quite, quite indifferent that his heart was breaking.

Here in the bedroom that he used to share
She lived day after day, averse to living,
Indifferent, unforgiving, unaware
That he had any need of her forgiving.

IV

AT first Lee wrote to him every day
Tactful letters, that let him see
She knew very well he would rather be
With her - but it wasn't the thing to say.

Tactful letters at first, and then
Letters less tactful and more sincere,
Ending: 'Why don't you write to me, dear?'
Write to me . . . over and over again.

But he could not answer her piteous call;
Not exactly that he forgot
Their love, but only that she had not
Any reality for him at all.

She seemed like a pleasant book he had read -
Read and enjoyed; but the printed page
Cannot compete with the heritage
Of Nature. . . the living, and Oh, the dead!

At last he sent her a brief reply:
'I cannot write - or eat or sleep
Just now. I am going through the deep
Waters. Forgive me, dear Lee. Good-bye.'

V

THEN a night came
When in sleep broken
He heard his name
Suddenly spoken.
Into his dream
Horrors flocked thickly­
Was that a scream?
'Better come quicklyl'

Cold was his room
And his hands shaking;
Out of the gloom
Dawn was just breaking­
Dawn cool and green
Over the ocean,
Never more seen
Without emotion
Of death - agony ­
Somebody crying ­
All dawns that dawn, when he
Knew Ruth was dying.

VI

WHAT can you do with a woman's things
After a woman is dead?
Not the bracelets and rings and strings
Of pearls, but the small unvalued things ­
What can I do, Wayne said.

What can you do with a woman's dresses,
After a woman is dead?
Hanging limp in the cedar presses,
They are part of herself, her pretty dresses ­
What can I do, Wayne said.

What can you do with a woman's shoes,
After a woman is dead?
Shoes that perhaps you helped her choose,
Poor little empty half-worn shoes­
What can I do, Wayne said.

What can you do with her brush and comb,
After a woman is dead?
What in God's name can you do with her home
And her loss and her love and her brush and comb ­
What can I do, Wayne said.

VII

UP a little river
Where salmon used to play,
Not twenty miles distant
A little village lay -­
Ruth's native village,
Where Wayne used to go
To see his mother's mother
Many years ago.
Here in a churchyard
With pines along the wall
And a wooden church steeple
Almost too tall,
Here in September,
On a bright clear day
Among the graves of sailors,
They laid Ruth away.

In this same churchyard,
Sitting on the stones,
He had first said he loved her
In young shaken tones.
That had been September,
But not this bright light.
Between the pine-needles
The stars shone white,­
Such a little maiden,
Such a young man­
'I love you.' - And she answered:
'I don't see how you can.'
They had been so happy
They had not cared at all
That the place was a churchyard
With pines along the wall.

VIII

WAYNE stood bareheaded on the churchyard sward
By the open grave under the open sky:
'I am the resurrection and the life, saith the Lord,
He who believeth in Me shall n
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Submitted on May 13, 2011

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Alice Duer Miller

Alice Duer Miller was a writer from the U.S. whose poetry actively influenced political opinion. Her feminist verses made an impact on the suffrage issue, and her verse novel The White Cliffs encouraged U.S. entry into World War II. She also wrote novels and screenplays. more…

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