The Caregiver

See this Lithuanian woman. She has been
feeding my father dinners of mashed turkey
and broccoli, potato pancakes, washing his
clothes, bathing him, offering him the choice
between Wolf Blitzer and Vanna White for years.

Observe her hands as they gently push his body
to the side of the hospital bed. They are covered
with latex gloves. Consider the way she has taught
me to tenderly pull up his socks and cover him
with a quilt, put drops in his eyes, rub powder
on a rash, splash his neck with Old Spice, then
bend down to kiss his cheek goodnight.

You must come closer, you must hang up your jacket,
be prepared to spend hours listening to his slurred
speech, help feed him applesauce with vitamins,
raise and lower his bed, monitor his erratic heartbeat.
Remember what he has given up—his Buick LeSabre,
his cane, his walker, then finally his wheelchair, to get
to where he now lives—a bed with guard rails.

Go to the night-stand and offer him a Frango Mint,
put on his favorite Garrison Keillor CD. Listen as he
smiles with his one good eye and whispers something
so faint, you ask him to repeat, “I’m lucky.”
Think about all this while driving the long way home.
You may get angry at the world, like I do, until you
see your husband asleep in the Lazy-Boy, bare
legs dangling. Until you suddenly realize what the caregiver
has taught you as, without a word, you slowly rub lotion
onto your husband’s chapped heels, then cover his ice-cold feet.

Caroline JohnsonCaroline Johnson enjoys watching movies with her father, especially James Bond movies. She has two poetry chapbooks, Where the Street Ends and My Mother’s Artwork. In 2012 she won First Place in the Chicago Tribune’s Printers Row Poetry Contest, and is a Pushcart Prize nominee. She has published poetry in Encore, Chicago Tribune, Uproot, The Quotable, Rambunctious Review, Blast Furnace, Origins Journal, Naugatuck River Review, and others. She has led workshops for veterans and other poets on such topics as Poetry and Spirituality, Speculative Poetry, and Writing About Chicago, and serves as president of Poets and Patrons of Chicago.