Claudia Gary

Reflections on a Nursing Home Survey, II

Another Artist

You aren't on my list
but I keep seeing you
in the common area
staring down at a table
as TVs drone above.

At first I think you're reading
and probably a Bible
until bright colors appear,
some within printed lines,
others in shapes you've drawn.

They're more elaborate
each time I pass. But when I say
"Nice work!" you don't look up.

How Often Do You Feel Worried?

This question brings up memories
of the disease that interrupted
college and brought you here
half a lifetime ago.

Then you change the subject
and tell me why Bingo matters.
When we finish the interview
you say goodbye with tears,

and then, "Stay safe out there!"

How Often Do You Feel Happy?

Your complaints about the food
and too little PT
lose their grip; you tell me now
that you are happy often,
especially when you see
your lady friend a few doors down.

Later while I interview her
you call her on the phone
and she can't hide her smile.

The Flirt

You drag your walker in,
sit down across a table,
gaze at me and say,
"You have a car here, right?"

I shrug and nod. You ask,
"Can you please take me home?"
(Κeep it professional.)
"I'm not allowed. Sorry."

That's when the game begins.
After each survey question
you're silent till I look
and see those eyes. Oh yes,

you must have been a charmer.
And you know what you're doing.
You plan to drag this out
until I'm really sorry.

How Would You Rate Your Life Now?

This question is hardest to ask
and its answers can surprise.
The gloomiest residents
may give their life a "10."
The cheerful may say "2."
It's a mystery to solve
someday, or never.


You spend 20, 30 minutes
getting dressed, then ask
the nurse's aide to let me in.

When I compliment
your sequined cap, you pull it off,
reach for a wig, position it,

smile up at me and say,
"Now I look like Tina Turner!"


He starts in a place where sun
does shine—where it shines too much—
and he quells fears one by one.
A dark spot, flat to touch,
above and beside her nose
is not what it might have been.
So she keeps, who never chose,
her heliophobic skin.

Paper robe pulled away,
she wishes the exam were done
but steels herself to stay,
thankful she's always feared the sun,
whose worship never fails
to leave unhallowed trails.


Claudia Gary teaches workshops on Villanelle, Sonnet, Natural Meter, Persona Poems, Poetry vs. Trauma, etc., at The Writer's Center (writer.org), currently via Zoom. Author of Humor Me (2006) and several chapbooks, most recently Genetic Revisionism (2019), she is also a health science writer, visual artist, and composer of tonal chamber music and art songs. Her chapbooks are available via the email address at pw.org/content/claudia_gary. Her 2022 article on setting poems to music, is at straightlabyrinth.info/conference.html.


Jane Blanchard
Barbara Lydecker Crane
Mary Cresswell
Barbara Crooker
Sarah-Jane Crowson
Claudia Gary
Julia Griffin
Mia Schilling Grogan
Kathryn Jacobs
Jen Karetnick
Jean L. Kreiling
Jenna Le
Kathleen McClung
Diane Lee Moomey
Leslie Schultz
Natalie Staples
Kathrine Varnes
Joyce Wilson
Marly Youmans


The latest addition to the Mezzo Cammin Women Poets Timeline Database is Rachel Wetzsteon by Patricia Behrens. The Poetry by the Sea Conference is scheduled next year from May 21-24.

Maureen Alsop:I often create visual art as a memorialization to the closure of a written work. However, many of these visual pieces arrived as a trajectory while writing a larger 'work-in-progress.' The text within the visual poems do not speak to the content of the larger work but are autonomous, acting as bridge between the written and visual bodies. The original text draws upon ghosts in the hall of battles. It is a glittering solar analemma, an unattested revolution, an infinity reflected in ellipses, omissions, and disintegration. A full collection representing many of these images came to fruition recently in Tender to Empress (Wet Cement Press). Yet the act of creating from text continues, as the digital collages here also include newer works based on miscellaneous notes, old emails, and most recently a short story, "The Unnamed Woman of Mary River" (forthcoming at South Dakota Review). The title to these are based on cargo ships which I pass on my daily commute from island to mainland. These small cities of people, afloat for weeks on end out at sea, are a looming story that embarks and disembarks in my imagination.

The visual poems are crafted under the mechanics of "Écriture Féminine," literally "women's writing." These principals advance a feminine perspective. I write from parallels, cyclical slips through stream of conscious and fragmentary processes. The writing exists as rough erotic. As talisman. Interpersonal in their ruptures and syntax, soft in their discomforts; a splintered narrative. Through writing, I can go anywhere and never be found.

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