Last visit, her face was swollen, foreshortened by
pink scarf, but her cheekbones (Cherokee, she told me
when we were young) have now reasserted
themselves, her scalp refeathering.

You look so beautiful, I say, words she seems
to pick up, smile flickering,
until she turns again
to trying to sit, though we have
to catch and lift and
her husband
to support her,
which she cannot
bear for long.
I have to get up, she says,
I have to get out of this place.

He tries to stall, talks of brushing her hair
first, and for a moment, she leans
into his fingering
of brief curls, but then, determined, arching away,
I’ve got to get home.

You are home, he tells her,
in your own room, your own bed,
but she pushes now so hard
that we turn her legs, gather her arms, lift and walk
her to a chair, which despite whimpering
urgency, she cannot take, its chintz print
roses on vines.

Did you call the car? Tell him
to come right now?  You know you’ve got
to call it. 

I called it, her husband lies
as he holds her head close to slide down drops.
But I’ve got to go home, she cries, pulling away
from body, pain, still air.
Just stay for a bit, he whispers.


I had determined to take a break from writing but I am posting this revised version of an older poem for dVerse Poets Pub “Meeting the Bar” prompt on home, hosted by the wonderful poet Pamela  Sayers (who writes of Mexico) and Victoria C. Slotto.  This is a poem that I have rewritten many times, never really able to get it right.  A different version can be found elsewhere on this blog and in my book of poetry, GOING ON SOMEWHERE, (by Karin Gustafson, illustrated by Diana Barco). 

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32 Comments on ““Home””

  1. Mohana Says:

    Beautifully written!

  2. ninotaziz Says:

    Oh Karin. The ache breaks my heart.

  3. brian miller Says:

    there is an ache to this…her not really being in this place and time a bit, its heart wrenching…or maybe just not accepting of this reality, which gives it a bit of a disjointed feel…the moment…you know…

    • ManicDdaily Says:

      You know there was direct mention of the end of chemo in earlier versions which were much longer. I feel like it’s implied but maybe it’s better to mention it. k.

  4. Although a sadness runs throughout, I also feel her strength and determination, so both of these feelings permeate your words. I find, those thoughts and emotions most dear to us are most difficult for us to be satisfied with in a ‘final version’– perhaps in this case, there is no final version for you– allow it to be a piece that you revisit, rework simply as an exercise to get out the emotion, as it changes, as it evolves. In the meantime, as a reader, this version is simply perfect.~peace, Jason

  5. David King Says:

    Sounds pretty good to me, but I understand you, I have two or three poems that I have rewritten many times and still they don’t sound right. It obviously is important to you. The subject, of course, is important to us all. It was a privilege to read it.

    • ManicDdaily Says:

      Thanks, Dave. It’s one of those funny things. I really am a bit stressed/busy to work on poems right now, but when I saw the prompt, I thought I could just post an old version. Then of course I began mucking at it, and ending up spending quite a bit of time, probably without an improvement! But it’s all interesting. I did manage to cut quite a bit. K.

  6. vbholmes Says:

    Heartfelt–and heartwrenching. Beautifully done.

  7. nico Says:

    I know these feelings firsthand–not from the patient side, but from the family/caregiver side. Accurate description of the pain and confusion–it’s so hard to watch a loved-one suffer and be powerless to help. Very well done.

  8. hedgewitch Says:

    The opening describes the situation perfectly, if obliquely, I feel–I think oblique is fine with this subject, as most everyone has a background of some kind in it (sadly.) A very strong poem, yet full of love and compassion. Liked it much. Thanks for sharing, k.

    PS Typo in line two of penultimate stanza

  9. janehewey Says:

    I can see and nearly feel: scalp refeathering, chintz print, and pain still air. this is beautiful for its honesty and brutal for the same reason. Where is Home for her? childhood home, recent home, after-life’s home? The ultimate question, I think. The last thing my grandfather said before passing, “I”m goin’ home.”

  10. claudia Says:

    Just stay for a bit, he whispers….this really brought tears to my eyes.. my mom used to work in a nursing home and sometimes i went with her to work when she had nightshift and slept in a spare room there… i joined her for her evening round and just couldn’t believe that she lied to people but like in your poem, it was to calm them down…it were graceful lies..and yet..somehow i never forgot the suffering..

  11. kkkkaty Says:

    wow….I also love the chintz reference and find this version extremely vital…makes me wonder what the other versions are like…full of strong feelings …

  12. Heartbreaking scene – so tenderly written – brings tears to my eyes. K

  13. Karin, this is so deeply touching. Reading this replayed many scenes I witnessed in working with death and dying. I had a visceral reaction to this beautifully penned story/poem. Wow!

    • ManicDdaily Says:

      Thanks, Victoria. I think you saw an earlier version at one point. I tried to trim it a bit.

      You must have had amazing (and deeply profound and sad) experiences. I’ve only been through this a few times. There are moments of such truth. I haven’t described them here, but you know what I mean. Life gets a real urgency. k.

  14. Pamela Says:

    Karin, this is truly beautiful, even though it is evident the subject matter. I see you wrote this with a tender heart. Thanks for sharing it with us.


  15. MarinaSofia Says:

    Oh, this is heartbreaking.

  16. I’m heart sick because I recently lost a friend to such a disease and, a “going” anywhere is usually tough. Fabulous writing with a tout topic.

  17. Sabio Lantz Says:

    Well, I have two types of reactions to your poem — the first concerning the content, the second concerning the craft. Shall I e-mail the craft comment to you? For I see no one touching that here though your comment of re-writing and re-writing stirred my mind to jump into the construction instead of just the message. But I don’t want folks to see me as someone playing poker in a funeral home.

    • ManicDdaily Says:

      Ha. Well, I think it’s fine to comment publicly, and probably I prefer that. It’s a troubled poem. The other versions were quite a bit longer and possibly clearer, and some versions had rather different focuses. I tend not to trust really long poems so I prefer to try to shorten, but it may well be that my first versions were much better. Honestly, this is a poem that I have rewritten over the course of several years, so I may have made it much staler. k.

  18. Sabio Lantz Says:

    Ah, OK — so here ya go (hope I got the HTML right):

    Concerning Content: Like other commentors, I recognize this pain and sadness and feel you have captured it well. Of course it is a long while ago for you and this has been through many re-writes so I won’t pretend it is raw — so I feel safe talking about craft.

    Concerning Craft: Let me share this naive readers 3 reaction to the mechanics of your poem.

    (1) Little words
    It reads: “foreshortened by pink scarf” — “a pink scarf” is much gentler on my mind. “Pink Scarf” sounds like an anime creature that shortened her face. Leaving out short words like, “of”, “a” and such makes something more poemish, of course, but for me, they usually are just awkward and trip my brain, destroying the flow of a poem. Sometimes, abbreviated grammar works perfectly for me, so I am not being a prose bigot. Like when you said “smile flickering” — which was smooth.

    (2) The lift scene
    You wrote:

    “… thought we have
    to catch and lift
    and her husband
    to support her, …”

    Here my mind had to re-read — did the husband fall too? Her husband (ah, not your dad). Too many “ands” — so I stumbled.
    I day-dreamed about something like this:

    “… though her husband and I
    catch, lift and support her briefly
    for she cannot
    bear it for long”

    (3) “slide down drops”
    The last 4 stanzas flow beautifully for me. Only this phrase threw off the flow. So a re-write my brain does to interpret is, during my stumble, was:
    “as he holds her head close,
    she slides and drops down.” [sorry, unavoidably added another line]

    Well, those are my three thoughts — just one person’s feelings — you know how poems are.

    Thanks for letting me play poker in the parlor. 🙂

    • ManicDdaily Says:

      Hey Sabio,

      I do not ever mind craft comments. Even if I disagree with them, it is interesting and helpful for me to see where I may have misled a reader or not been as clear as I would like.

      I’m going to go backwards through your points – the “drops” are actually medicinal drops. She doesn’t drop down. This is medicine being inserted into her mouth through a dropper to slide the liquid down her throat. I guess for me the key is the punctuation – I try to use it pretty carefully, so if I were to be using drops as a verb, I would have had a comma after slides down, to indicate another action. It is very interesting for me to see that you read it this way though. It never occurred to me that someone would see it as a verb, but I have greatly shortened all of this last bit, and maybe some of the geography of how people sit and what they are doing has become muddled.

      I don’t mind all the “ands” in the lift and support bit because it is inherently such an awkward procedure and the point of the awkward diction is to emphasize the physical awkwardness of it all. I appreciate that that may not work for every reader.

      I deliberately chose not to put “a” before pink scarf simply because you are right – the “a pink scarf” is gentler and I want to emphasize the foreshortening of it, the cutting off of scalp and forehead, and again the rather brutal awkwardness which pink tries to mitigate.

      I should as an exercise sometimes post different versions of a poem, as it would be interesting to see people’s takes. There is always a problem in cutting a great deal – this is probably about one-third or one/half of its original length – that you may cut good details or interesting clarification. AT the same time, I personally have a hard time maintaining my focus on very long poems, which should perhaps be written out in a prose form. I don’t know. So I went for the cuts – maybe still not enough. Thanks for your close attention. k.

      • ManicDdaily Says:

        Hi Sabio – just in case you’ve already read my comment – I had an error (since corrected) in the comment – I meant that if I meant “drops” as a separate verb, I would have put comma after slides down. (Not just after slides.) k.

  19. Sabio Lantz Says:

    Thanks for your kind reply Karin. Thought I don’t expect anyone to be sympathetic to a craft comments. I instead expect justifications, rationalizations and defenses. After all, the poem is ours, personal, private and sacred. I wager that this is one reason many blogging poets prefer posting poetry to prose: for the sanctuary.

    So when people respond to my craft comments, I just leave them be and carry the conversation no further. Trusting that if there is any value to be had either way, it occurs later, when our brains sleep.

    All to say, I expect some of your responses, and learned from the rest. And trust that my sharing will echo with someone, sometime.

    I think your idea of putting up a few parallel versions of a poem would be great fun. I would not put them one-after-another, but parallel. Doing so in WordPress is an HTML nightmare so when I want to have control of my fonts and layout, I use OmniGraffle to create a .png file. Perhaps you have similar software. Parallel presentations would make clear the poem’s changes and various manipulations clear — thus I find reading the synoptic gospels in parallel very useful also. 🙂

    Thanx for the reply.

    • ManicDdaily Says:

      Hi Sabio, I don’t really mind craft comments. I may bristle initially but it is always interesting and useful. I agree re parallel postings. I wanted to note that I subscribe to your blog and I do not think that the png pictures show up on the emails I get of a new post. This may be because I am often getting on a mobile device but sometimes I get the commentary without the poem. Of course when I go to the site it is there. K.

  20. kaykuala Says:

    It’s always a joy to see writings like this though it pains the heart a little! Nicely K!


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