Kelley Jean White

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Artwork by Gene McCormick


There's nothing like a difficult patient to show us ourselves
--William Carlos Williams

She’s forty-three now. Heavier
than me. Heavier certainly than
the man who's been assigned
to watch her. Twice, three times
her mother’s weight. She’s rocking,
each time she rocks to the left
she cries ‘Ai’, each time she rocks
to the right she moans ‘Ooooo.’
I walk by, smile, wave, call her
name. She doesn’t remember me.
How could she? I’ve been gone
ten years. Oh but I remember her.
I don’t know the man. An aide,
passing through, asks if he’s Ok
with things. I keep walking, a fast
pace. After three loops around
the clinic she’s finally seated. Head
in her hands. Rocking a different

The Septic System Guy Advocates for Bacteria

He says they are our ally in the great
battle for progress and hygiene. He’s glad
we pump our tank every year, although two
or even five might be enough. And we
don’t have a garbage dispose-all. We make
compost! We save bacon fat in a can.
(I don’t know what for.) And we only do
a little laundry. (Well, OK, but gee,
I blame you. All those towels. And showers.)
But you did install a low flow toilet.
And I minimize household cleaners. (Ha!
I don’t clean.) We use liquid, not powdered
laundry detergent. Glad, he says to let
nature, normal human waste, do its job.

Sierra is eight, I asked her about February 14

“On Valentine’s Day I’m gonna write: ‘Dear
Shawn, I love you, I always wanted my
aunt to have a baby and now you are
here.’ He’s two. He had a bad mom. He cries.
He keeps raising his middle finger but
my aunt, she just pops him some now and he’s
stopping; ‘and now you are here with us but
soon you have to go back. Your father, he’s
gonna take you. I won’t see you any
more. But I’ll always be thinking of you.’
He was so sad. See he was just lying
in the crib with all those sores. Now he smiles
sometimes at me. ‘I’m worried your crying
will make your Dad too mad after a while.
Shawn, I am going to miss you forever. 
I will even miss changing your diapers,
you know your skin feels like a flower
whenever I have to change your diaper.’”


Pediatrician Kelley White has worked in inner city Philadelphia and rural New Hampshire. Her poems have appeared in Exquisite Corpse, Rattle and JAMA. Her recent books are TOXIC ENVIRONMENT (Boston Poet Press) and TWO BIRDS IN FLAME (Beech River Books.) She received a 2008 Pennsylvania Council on the Arts grant.