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A novel in verse … and the writing thereof
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December

My first term in nursing college was

     the fall of ’41. We were not yet

     at war. Some people managed still to believe

     it would never come.

Sunday made no difference

in our training schedule, but I’d gotten off at eleven

     the night before,

made our midnight curfew, and

slept late. Sometimes my roommate Edna and I,

avoiding the cafeteria’s cold or soggy toast and

weeping eggs,

had tea in the dorm lounge. That day, we went out

into the foggy morning to the corner cafe.

In San Francisco, June is foggy, not December. My mind

blurred, confused by the wrong-season weather,

I stumbled past groups of people standing, talking.

Stepping off a curb, I twisted my ankle

a little. I could not find

     the right pace.

In the cafe it took a long time to get coffee,

     and the waitress, pouring, called back

to the crowd arguing at the counter,

     “It’s more than a thousand miles, isn’t it?”

The voices were adamant, my headache worse.

“—if they could refuel there—“

“They didn’t capture it—“

“As good as, they destroyed the fleet.”

“No, by God,” one man thundered, fist to table,

     “it’s American soil.”

“What are they talking about?” Edna murmured.

     I shook my head.

“You don’t think they could—“

“Here? No, it’s too far.”

The waitress returned with menus under her arm.

“What happened?” we asked.

“Haven’t you heard? The Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor!”

The day tilted.

“Take your time ordering, girls.”

I reached out. My hand could grasp, but not hold.

The menu slipped through my fingers

to the floor.

Next day, when we got to class at last, seats stood empty.

Nurse Barnes (Barium, we called her) angular and angry, watched

     as we took our places, then fixed us

     with her eyes. “Now that the country’s at war,”

     she said, “it needs your services more than ever. It behooves you

     to be ready.” She paused. “Do not be late

     again.”

The girls who became nurses later

     knew what they were getting into,

               as much as anyone could. They chose

     the war. I chose a career. War

     was not part of that choice. But there it was.

You could hardly

     ignore it.

Some of us in the full

     two-year program thought

only we

     were real nurses. Some in

     the one-year program for Auxiliary Nurses

     saw us as inexcusably slow, self-indulgent,

     in a time of crisis. It was not always pretty.

Meantime, the boys kept dying, or coming home in

     various states of ruin.

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