It's for her I bring them, these worn issues of Poetry,
the dog-eared Bellevue Literary Review, the twice-read 13th Moon.
I settle them like seedlings on chipped end tables
or toss a few on the reception desk alongside laminated cards
that teach us to palpate in the shower. Then I stand
in the doorway as she leaves, fresh from her exam—
after all, I might have asked a question that opened
the floodgates of her memory or spoken the diagnosis
that could break her heart. I'll sleep best tonight
if I can also give her poems: clear, mysterious words
that might shatter the winter river's ice, ease
the deep, sad recollection, or become the secret cure—
even if, they say, poems can't save us.
I hold my breath until she takes one.
What happens now, great or unknown poets of these pages,
is out of our hands and balancing in hers.
Cortney Davis, a nurse practitioner at Danbury Hospital in Danbury, CT, is the author of a memoir and two books of poetry, as well as the coeditor of Between the Heartbeats: Poetry and Prose by Nurses and Intensive Care: More Poetry and Prose by Nurses (University of Iowa Press, 1995 and 2003 respectively).
About this poem, Davis says, “It occured to me that women in the clinic might find reading poetry calming, that it might encourage them to write their own, or even to change their lives. The day that I put the journals in the waiting room, I watched a woman read one, then slip it into her purse.”