.

Aunt Helen

Aunt Helen told me it was time to go.
It hurt her to sit upright in the bed,
a fact I’d rather that I didn’t know.

It’s OK, I can turn this gear below.
Please don’t; a flattened mattress hurts my head.
Aunt Helen told me it was time to go.

So you’re in pain whether it’s high or low?
It even hurts to chew; I can’t be fed,
a fact I’d rather that I didn’t know.

A knock and then a nurse’s faint hello.
It smells in here; it’s time to change the bed.
Aunt Helen told me it was time to go.

What did the doctor say the tests might show?
It must be bad. It’s very bad, she said,
a fact I’d rather that I didn’t know.

Well I can always come tomorrow though.
Tomorrow? Well by then I could be dead.
Aunt Helen told me it was time to go,
a fact I’d rather that I didn’t know.

.

.

Geoffrey Smagacz writes from South Carolina and Mexico. A collection of his fiction, published under the title of A Waste of Shame and Other Sad Tales of the Appalachian Foothills (Wiseblood Books, 2013), won the 2014 Independent Publisher gold medal for Best Mid-Atlantic Regional Fiction. His rhymed and metered poetry has also been published in various literary magazines and e-zines, including The Classical Poetry Society, 14 by 14 and Dappled Things. Look for Geoffrey’s latest novel, Reportedly Murdered: A Gregory Thackery Mystery (Wipf and Stock Publishers), in April (fingers crossed), written under his nom de plume, Geoffrey Walters.


NOTE TO READERS: If you enjoyed this poem or other content, please consider making a donation to the Society of Classical Poets.

The Society of Classical Poets does not endorse any views expressed in individual poems or comments.


CODEC Stories:

16 Responses

  1. Paul Freeman

    Most of us have been in the situation of the visitor.

    The poem had a sort of jaunty edge to it (what with the repetitions) which made the reality of the text more bearable to think upon and also making the reader feel slightly detached, but without taking away from the seriousness of the topic.

    I hope that makes sense.

    Thanks for the read Geoffrey. Your poem brings into focus in a more ordered and manageable way the chaos and helplessness felt when visiting the dying.

    Reply
    • Geoffrey S.

      That makes perfect sense to me because in these moments (which seem to happen more and more frequently as I get older) there is so much unspoken. It’s hard to know what to say. A priest or hospital chaplain is better equipped to break through the distance.

      Reply
  2. Joseph S. Salemi

    It’s difficult to pull off a villanelle when there are two speaking voices. I think this one could be made more accessible to the reader if the lines spoken by Aunt Helen were put into italics.

    Those would be lines 5, 8, 14 (except for /she said/), and 17. I’ve left out line 11, because it seems to me that this line is spoken by the nurse.

    Italicizing the lines spoken by Aunt Helen would also emphasize the powerful distance between the narrator and the sick woman.

    Reply
    • Geoffrey S.

      Thanks for your suggestion. You always have valuable comments. However, this is a poem about what’s spoken and unspoken, and what can and can’t be spoken at such a dramatic end-of-life moment. The indirect quote (“Aunt Helen told me it was time to go”) is in counterpoint to direct quotes from three distinct voices. The poem is too short to clutter up with quotation marks or italics. Who is speaking must be determined by context.

      Reply
      • Joshua C. Frank

        Don’t worry, I understood who was speaking from the context, and I think the general reader will too.

  3. Joshua C. Frank

    Gregory, this is great! What an ingenious use of the villanelle form, to tell a story so true to life. This one makes me interested in looking at your other poems!

    Reply
  4. C.B Anderson

    I once had an Aunt Helen, Geoffrey. She was my maternal Grandmother’s sister. Both are now long gone. My Aunt Helen never told me anything like the one you’ve created did (and just who is this person?). To paraphrase an anecdote regarding Samuel Johnson:

    S.J., always a stickler when it came to correct diction, was at a social gathering when a woman standing nearby muttered, “He smells.” Having overheard her remark, he turned and replied, “No, madam. You smell; I stink.” So in line 2 of the 4th stanza, “stinks” might have been better than “smells.”

    Reply
    • Geoffrey S.

      Thanks for the laugh out loud. That conversation would have made my Aunt Helen laugh. She was a character. I miss her.

      Reply
  5. Roy Eugene Peterson

    I have had such helpless feelings for those I loved. Your beautiful crafting of the situation pierces the heart and reminds us all of our own vulnerability.

    Reply
  6. Allegra Silberstein

    You have used the villanelle beautifully to tell of Aunt Helen. Thank you!

    Reply

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.