At The Nursing Home

A volunteer at the nursing home,
I clean the vinyl binders
That hold the patients' records.
With tedium and chemicals
And a single-edged razor
I scrape away labels,
Layer upon layer,
The names of saints departed,
Those no longer with us --
Casual euphemisms
For the everydayness of death.
Red stickers marked "No Code" I leave in place,
A cryptic signal to describe
The deal struck in places like this
Between common sense and guilt.
Inside the cover is a sign-out sheet:
On some there are entries describing
Trips home for Christmas,
Rides in the country to see the dogwood.

For others the pages are as blank as the stares
In the wheelchairs that line the dayroom wall.
In case of emergency:
Here is a detailed itinerary of a niece's trip to Europe;
In another, a son says, "Call my boss."
Some binders are packed with the minutiae of
Emended diets, medications,
An inventory of complaints harbored in
Querulous minds with nothing else to do.
For others a simple diagnosis,
The words few, hopeless.
I scrape on,
Deeper into the agglomerate tape and glue:
Soon the binders will be clean, neat, uniform,
Like death's own Horatian symmetry, equity.
I come at length,
As of course I knew I would,
To my motherís name.

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