Friday, June 1, 2018

June 2018 Poetry Challenge - Caregiving

My husband’s grandmother cared for his grandfather at home for many years after a stroke disabled him. Dad was a natural-born caretaker, looking after Mother’s health until his own deteriorated. My older sister cared for both of them in her home until it was no longer possible. After they went into a nursing home, she visited them daily unless she was out of town, and participated in their care there. Mother became quite fond of some of the nursing aids who assisted her in dressing, getting in and out of her wheelchair, etc.

These examples are of care giving with the elderly, as are the sample poems below. Persons with various handicapping conditions also require caregivers. My oldest granddaughter was born with hypotonic cerebral palsy as well a fatal genetic disease, neuroaxonal dystrophy. She never learned to talk or walk, or to sit up on her own for more than a few seconds. Our daughter and son-in-law were her primary caregivers, until she died shortly before her seventh birthday. Her older sister, just a young child herself, often helped by feeding her though her feeding tube, entertaining her, helping bathe her, and so on.

Here are two excellent examples of poems regarding caregiving:

Snail Time

the snail on my parents'
front walk
paces its slow but sometime
will get there crawl to the azalea bush
leaves just a trace
of coming and going
his shell both shelter
and what seems to be baggage
too heavy to carry

my mother lies in the hospice bed
it almost swallows her
my father marks a trail between
the kitchen and her bed
carries reheated coffee
tiny comfort in a long day

I ask my father about
the snail
the heavy shell
the long slow crawl
you do what you have to do

~ Maryann Hurtt

“Snail” was published in Maryann’s chapbook, River (Aldrich Press, 2016).

I like the metaphoric use of the snail in this poem. The poem is delicate and shows more than it tells. The commitment of the husband reminds me of Dad’s commitment to Mother when she was ill, as well as his regret when he was no longer able to provide the care she needed.

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 Johnson

“The Caregiver” was previously published in Lunch Ticket and nominated in 2016 for Best of the Net. Title poem in Caroline’s first full-length collection, The Caregiver (Holy Cow! Press, 2018). The Caregiver is now available in bookstores or online from Holy Cow! Press and Amazon.

One of the things I like about this poem is the layering. There is the professional caregiver, the Lithuanian woman who provided in-home care to the poet’s father. There is the poet herself—driving a long distance to see her father—and learning from the professional, so that she is more helpful to her father. And, at the end, we find that the poet extends her caregiving to her husband though he is not ill. The many details enrich the poem.

The June Challenge:

The June Challenge is to submit a poem about caregiving. It may be caregiving you do or have done, or caregiving by someone else. It may involve caring for the sick, the elderly, or persons with handicapping conditions. It may be professional caregiving (nurses or nannies, for example), or caregiving by friends, neighbors, parents. children, or others. Perhaps you have required (or received) the help of a caregiver.

Your poem may be free verse or formal. If you use a form, please identify the form when you submit your poem.

Title your poem unless it is a form that does not use titles. Single-space and don’t use lines that are overly long (because the blog format doesn’t accommodate long lines). Read previous poems on the blog to see what line lengths can be accommodated.

You may submit a published poem if you retain copyright, but please include publication data. This applies to poems published in books, journals, newspapers, or on the Internet.

The deadline is June 15. Poems submitted after the deadline will not be considered. There is no charge to enter, so there are no monetary rewards; however winners are published on this blog. Please don’t stray too far from “family-friendly” language (some children read this blog). No simultaneous submissions, please. You should know by the end of the month whether or not your poem will be published on this blog. Decision of the judge or judges is final.

The poet retains copyright on each poem. If a previously unpublished poem wins and is published elsewhere later, please give credit to this blog. I do not register copyright with the US copyright office, but by US law, the copyright belongs to the writer unless the writer assigns it to someone else.

How to Submit Your Poem:

Send one poem only to wildamorris[at]ameritech[dot]net (substitute the @ sign for “at” and a . for “dot”). Put “June Poetry Challenge Submission” in the subject line of your email. Include a brief bio that can be printed with your poem if you are a winner this month. Please put your name and bio under the poem in your email.

Submission of a poem gives permission for the poem to be posted on the blog if it is a winner, so be sure that you put your name (exactly as you would like it to appear if you do win) at the end of the poem.

Poems may be pasted into an email or sent as an attachment (no pdf files, please). Please do not indent the poem or center it on the page. It helps if you submit the poem in the format used on the blog (Title and poem left-justified; title in bold (not all in capital letters); your name at the bottom of the poem). Also, please do not use multiple spaces instead of commas in the middle of lines. I have no problem with poets using that technique (I sometimes do it myself). However I have difficulty getting the blog to accept and maintain extra spaces.

Poems shorter than 40 lines are generally preferred but longer poems will be considered.


Caroline Johnson has two poetry chapbooks, Where the Street Ends and My Mother’s Artwork. In 2012 she won the Chicago Tribune’s Printers Row Poetry Contest. Nominated for the Pushcart Prize and Best of the Net, her poetry has appeared in Red Paint Hill Journal, Encore, Uproot, The Quotable, Kind of a Hurricane Press, Blast Furnace, Origins Journal, Naugatuck River Review, and others. She leads workshops for veterans and other poets on such topics as Poetry and Spirituality, Speculative Poetry, and Writing About Chicago. Learn more from her website at

In another life, Maryann Hurtt was a hospice nurse for thirty years. She lives down the road from the Ice Age Trail near Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin, where she and the Muse chase each other. Aldrich Press published her chapbook, River, in 2016. She is co-author with Cynthia Frozena of Hospice Care Planning: An Interdisciplinary Guide. Maryann's father read her John Muir stories when she was little. He and her mother taught her early on to hike, swim, bike, and love anything wild. Maryann’s poetry has been published in Blue Heron Review, Portage Magazine, Verse Wisconsin and elsewhere. Check out her website:

© Wilda Morris