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Joanne the Poet - The Poetry of Joanne M. Clarkson

Which Poem Was It?

There is a chapter in my book, “There’s Always a Miracle, True Stories of Life Before and After Death,” about when, as a Hospice Nurse, a read a poem to a patient dying of late stage Alzheimer’s. She was not my assigned patient. I was seeing her because her regular nurse was on vacation. It was an easy visit. She lived in a well-respected adult family home and had been unresponsive for days exhibiting no signs of discomfort. After I did my assessment, I lingered at her bedside for a moment wanting to do or say something to ease her passing. It was then I noticed a page left on her little table. It was a poem by Mary Oliver. I read it to her – and the miracle was that although she had not responded coherently to anyone for years and had not responded at all for a week – tears slipped from beneath her closed eyelids as I read the beautiful words.

A number of people have asked me which poem of Oliver’s it was. And, unfortunately, I don’t remember. I know it wasn’t “Wild Geese,” which I have and had then pretty much by heart. It wasn’t about a dog because I was reading her book Dog Songs then and it wasn’t one of those. And it wasn’t directly about death. I should have noted the title down. But it was a busy day. I had to squeeze her visit in among crises and questions and complex treatments. And, as with many events in our lives, I didn’t quite realize the significance until much later. I am sure it was one of Mary Oliver’s and it involved nature exalted in her exquisitely simple style that makes poetry lovers out of all of us.

My gift was to experience first-hand what poetry does to the soul. How it reaches the spirit through hearing, the final sense to leave us, and resonates even as the body loses everything except its final breath.

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