Foley Catheter

- 1971-

I clean its latex length three times a day
                      With kindliest touch,
           Swipe an alcohol swatch

From the tender skin at the tip of him
                      Down the lumen
            To the drainage bag I change

Each day and flush with vinegar.
                       When I vowed for worse
            Unwitting did I wed this

Something-other-than-a-husband, jumble
                       Of exposed plumbing
            And euphemism. Fumble

I through my nurse’s functions, upended
                        From the spare bed
            By his every midnight sound.

Unsought inside our grand romantic
                       Intimacy
           Another intimacy

Opens—ruthless and indecent, consuming
                        All our hiddenmosts.
            In a body, immodest

Such hunger we sometimes call tumor;
                       In a marriage
           It’s cherish.  From the Latin for cost.

More by Kimberly Johnson

Ode on My Episiotomy

Forget pearls, lace-edged kerchiefs, roomy pleats—
this is my most matronly adornment:
stitches purling up the middle of me
to shut my seam, the one that jagged gaped
upon my fecund, unspeakable dark,
my indecorum needled together
with torquemadan efficiency.  
But O!  the dream of the dropped stitch!  the loophole
through which that unruly within might thread,
catch with a small snag, pull the fray, unknit 
the knots unnoticed, and undoily me.

Don't lock up the parlor yet; such pleasure 
in unraveling, I may take up the sharps
and darn myself to ladylike again.

Farrow

Full in the fat wallow of me,
                     Superfluity
           Even to the marrow—

Blood plumping along in a red swell
                     Of venules
           Blushing my most unabashed

Skinpatches: nosetip, earlobe, wristshallow.  O
                      This mother
            Is a crush of too-muchness,

A malady of my baffled self awash.
                      Accomplished
            Finally the days, will I find

My bones I lost, will my sharps and edges
                      Hedge this fleshy
            Habit I’ve made of excess?

Already my heartracing startles
                      In another’s
            Twitches, my dinner hiccups

Another’s diaphragm. Already and almost
                      I swear I feel
            The protein creep of me, cell

By splitting cell, into another’s life.
                     This mother-grief
            Sorrows not for the heart-close one

I’ll lose from me at my delivery
                     But for my own
            Soul overboiling, unbound, bound

To a stranger’s groans, undone by his hurts
                     And remorses
            To the third and fourth

Generations.  What I’m birthing is my own
                     Diffusion.
            Never again mere. Never again my own.

Related Poems

Prayer to Our Lady of Waiting Rooms

Let the seats be plentiful and padded.  
Let the magazines be recent or let the book 
I’ve brought last until we can leave.
Let the TV on its bolted stand be off, 
muted, or showing something I can ignore—
weather, gameshows, CNN.  Let the room 
be mostly empty—no one shouting, sobbing, 
asking about my husband’s health.  
Let everyone be strangers except 
the staff.  Let the walls be freshly painted, 
soothing to behold.  Let my husband 
be there for a physical or routine checkup.  
Let no one comment on my clothes
or unwashed hair, how I can sit 
so calmly while he has staples 
or a catheter removed, his lungs or heart 
or kidneys tested, an infected wound 
debrided.  Under no circumstances 
let me be called into the back by a nurse 
who touches my arm, says I’m sorry but—  
Let my husband walk out whistling 
before I’ve finished my book, looked 
at my watch too many times.  Let the news
be good or benign, his next appointment 
not for months.  When the waiting is over, 
let us walk outside feeling better,
or at least no worse, than we did before.

Wrong Question

Then I was a safe house
for the problem that chose me.
Like pure math, my results
were useless for industry:
not a clear constellation,
a scattered cluster, a bound
gap. When I looked I found
an explorer bent. Love

never dies a natural death.
It happens in a moment.
Everything hinges on
a delicate understanding.
Even the most trusted caregiver
is only trusted for so long.

Domestic

At night, down the hall into the bedroom we go.
In the morning we enter the kitchen.
Places, please. On like this,

without alarm. I am the talker and taker
he is the giver and the bedroom man.
We are out of order but not broken.

He says, let's make this one short.
She says, what do you mean?
We set out and got nearer.

Along the way some loved ones died.
Whole summers ruined that way.
Take me to the door, take me in your arms.

Mother's been dead a decade
but her voice comes back to me now and often.
Life accumulates, a series of commas,

first this, then that, then him, then here.
A clump of matter (paragraph)
and here we are: minutes, years.

Wait, I am trying to establish
something with these people.
Him, her, him. We make a little pantomime.

Family, I say, wake up. The sentences
one then another one, in a line. And then
we go on like that, for a long time.


About this poem:
"'Domestic' is part of a new manuscript, The Uses of the Body, which explores themes of gender, desire, marriage, monogamy, mortality (subjects I've written about previously) as well as pregnancy, childbirth, motherhood (subjects I've been reluctant to explore in poetry for fear of risking sentimentality). Although this material may seem familiar, I feel compelled to find fresh language, form, and syntax that can capture the immense strangeness of these experiences. This poem ('Domestic') comes at the end of a long sequence about marriage and domestic life."

Deborah Landau