Compassion for Those Among Us: Recent Poems in ‘Art of Nursing’

By Sylvia Foley, AJN senior editor

Faded rose texture, by Calsidyrose via Flickr

In Carolyn Scarbrough’s poem “A Rose By Any Other Name” (Art of Nursing, August), a nurse sees an “opaque rose, unfurling” on a CT scan of an infant’s brain. Recognizing this as “evidence of violent acts,” she knows the outcome will almost certainly be tragic. Yet when she looks from the scan to the exhausted young father, another memory shifts her thoughts from “trauma to love.” With each reading, this poem reveals more about the intertwining of outrage and compassion. (Art of Nursing is always free online—just click through to the PDF file.)

“I try / to meditate on emptiness, // receive the next lungful, ignore / my prattling mind,” says the narrator of Risa Denenberg’s poem “Three-Part Breath” (Art of Nursing, July). The poem’s title refers to a yoga breathing practice, one built on trust; as the yoga teacher says, “There will always be // another inhalation.” But the narrator has a dying friend who “gasps for every breath” and longs for “deliverance.” In the spareness of its couplets, this poem literally gives us breathing room—while asking us to consider both the relentlessness of respiration and its grace.

Karen Douglass’s poem “First Hour of Death” (Art of Nursing, June) starts at the very moment that a woman’s breathing stops. But here death comes so subtly that those present almost can’t believe it.  They speak of how the woman’s “dying breath / murmured in her mouth, became silence.” The witnesses ask themselves, in a kind of sheeted wonder, whether they should “go back and relive how little we know” of dying. The poem’s final image, that of a cat “shifting its feet” near the dead woman, manages to be at once ordinary and unnerving.

We invite you to sit with these poems awhile, and see whether and how they resonate for you. If you’re interested in submitting your own work to Art of Nursing—we consider visual art, very short “flash” fiction, and poetry—please send me an email ( for more information.

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2016-11-21T13:12:09+00:00 August 12th, 2011|nursing perspective|2 Comments

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  1. […] A beautiful post relating to poetry and perspective in nursing from AJN’s Off the Charts. It brings a new meaning to the term “The Art of Nursing” and compassion certainly plays a key role. […]

  2. […] Nursing, and a wonderful writer of fiction (read her stories in Life in the Air Ocean), posted a blog on the AJN site that featured 3 recent poems published in AJN, mine among them. Thank you […]

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