The aides have callused hands and wear flat shoes;
they’re mostly women, some my age, some young
with facial piercings and banal tattoos
their uniforms can’t hide. They move among
the residents with iron deliberation—
it’s time for Rosalie to take a shower;
Angie’s having lunch with a relation—
in this dictatorship they are in power,
perhaps the only power they’ve ever had?
The wage is minimal, the hours hard.
They’re decent people. Why should I feel bad
watching one escort, like a prison guard,
Elizabeth—who has been drawn, once more
to hover, her face tense with real concern,
beside the recessed and secured door—
back to a chair. They aren’t brutal, but stern
like pre-school teachers, raising tired voices
and talking down to their reluctant classes,
who are denied autonomy and choices,
and given pulp-free juice in plastic glasses.
I hate it when I hear one of them call
Iris, batty; most, though not unkind,
treat Elinor as though she isn’t all
still there, as if now Alzheimer’s defined
these humans who were lovers, wives and mothers.
When Angie said she wasn’t ready for death,
I felt that fierceness rooted in the others—
life, on these terms, still worth every breath.
The aides are part of the terms. So am I. Once more
I take my timesheet, wave, let myself out.
Elizabeth makes a dash for the closing door.
One grabs her gently, turns her back about.