Breakfast at the General

Feeding Mr. Dowdy on E-5
the limp oatmeal
from his
uninterested mouth.
Grey eyes dead
he lives in another time
another war.

I shave his face
its stubbled contours
maps of memory and fear.
The razor cuts unevenly–
knicks his chin.
he swats at me
with posey mitts:
a tired old fighter.

I wipe away
the shaving cream
and leave him ready
for action
strapped to a red
vinyl chair
where he can watch
the shaven faces
of other old men
reflected in the window.


(from Remembrance Day 2012)

A poem from the early ’80s about a memory from 1968 A.D. I worked as a nursing orderly at a hospital for two years while I was putting myself through university. Working there was a unique, fast growing-up featuring encounters with serious accidents, illness, and death. A number of the patients I looked after when I was shifted to the oldest part of the hospital (E-5: geriatrics) were older men, some of whom had fought in WW1 (there are no vets from that war left now). I think the poem speaks for itself.

Notes: posey mitts–white mitts then which were tied over hands to keep patients from hurting themselves and others.; strapped–again to keep some disoriented seniors from getting up and hurting themselves.

Most people’s experiences of war are limited to seeing Remembrance Day ceremonies on tv. There are, of course, many other experiences such as the one I had. A political moment: I find it disgraceful that the government is grinchily not funding the funerals of poor veterans. They, of course, as in the case of the vets in the poem, deserve a better finale. Though the fate of many elderly in our society, too, is not terribly different from what I bare-bonely described.

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