Early Marriage: West Virginia

–Ann Floreen Niedringhaus

The other nurses called them brambles:
prickly creepers climbing up the rock face.
Stopping the car I gathered
blackberries to make an offering
for you—crystal jelly, all seeds
strained out through a dish towel.
Patients warned me later, “You better
watch for copperheads on those cliffs.”
You came home from hospital duty,
tired and distracted,
spread my ambrosia thickly and said,
I’d rather have Welch’s.

Driving to home visits, I took as a road
a dry creek bed overhung
with branches and vines.
It ended at a sagging porch,
the family processed a pig,
newly slaughtered, on the kitchen table.
Drawing me in near the carcass,
folks spoke their maladies: blind staggers,
drizzlin’ shits, a head gatherin’
that went away with white lightnin’.
And you walked home from your shift
in the emergency room
with your own stories: a man impaled
throw the chest with a telephone pole,
a woman with a neck goiter the size
of a cantaloupe; a child
whose smilin’ mighty Jesus
was spinal meningitis.
We talked in the dark before you fell asleep
feeling like Lewis and Clark.

Perched on the steepest hill in town,
our house was two stories high on the street,
four stories high in the back.
The gleaming Monongahela River
filled the winding valley bottom far below.
Years later my mother told us,
There was a hole in the bathroom wall.
I worried about rats.
We were surprised.
We couldn’t remember a hole.

(Excerpted and used with the permission of the author, published in The Country Doctor Revisited, KSU, 2010)

Ann Floreen Niedringhaus, a registered nurse, holds a master’s degree in social work and was a public health nurse in a federal Maternal and Infant Care Program based in Morgantown, W.Va. She is retired, continues to write, and lives in Duluth with her husband.

Nurses, social workers and public health nurses are important members of the health care team in both urban and rural America. Given the focus on health care home, their roles are underlined. I think of home health as the eyes and ears of the clinicians who spend most of their days in the hospital or clinic.  Often a phone call to the public health nurse gives provides me with insights into how I can help a patient manage their health challenges. 

Read another poem by Ann.


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