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Sunday, August 14, 2011

Nocturne for Mrs. Scott

My great-great grandmother, Harriet (Kent) Scott, committed suicide.  No one in my family knew about this until I happened upon a newspaper clipping from the late 19th century -- an obituary describing how she had become despondent over taking care of her bedridden husband, who suffered from "shaking palsy" (Parkinson's disease) and had poisoned herself.  The clipping said she was a "fine woman" who had "suffered greatly and finally had a mental collapse."

Her husband only outlived her by two months.

Back then, a suicide in a family was shameful -- her granddaughter, who was my grandmother, knew nothing about the tragedy.  I found it an incredibly sad story, and was inspired to write the following poem.


Nocturne for Mrs. Scott

Her husband watches her from the bed they share,
Watery eyes following her deft movements,
The cleaning and tidying, done with no conscious thought.
Take his empty water glass, put away the medicine the doctor left.
Straighten the lace on the bedside table, pull back the curtains.
She will not meet his eyes.
Her mind is caught in a web of remembering,
Trapped like a dying moth waiting for the sting, the poison, and oblivion.

She sees a time when this weak and withered man
Whose thin limbs and creaking voice she despises,
Was a laughing farm boy with chestnut hair and powerful arms,
And she remembers the chase, and wanting to be caught,
His arm looping around her waist,
Catching her up, twirling, spinning, kissing,
And falling to the ground together.

She despises him more because it wasn't always as it is now,
The dying old man fading and failing on the linen sheets,
Leaving her still in the midst of her strength,
Still in the depth of her own needs.

There is a brown glass bottle in the cabinet, near his medicine.
The paper label is gashed with crimson lettering.
Each time she pours the medicine, thick and dark, into a cup for him to drink from,
Her eyes brush across the label with a touch like snow on bare skin,
And she wonders how long it would take, and how she would feel, free.
Then she sees the laughing boy he once was,
And she leans against the counter
And weeps for her own weakness and wickedness and foolishness.

One summer morning, after the cleaning and tidying and straightening and pulling back of curtains,
The brown glass bottle with the crimson lettering
Fell from her numb fingers to shatter on the tile floor of the kitchen,
A trickle of dark fluid staining the jagged fragments.
And upstairs, the creaking voice, weak from need, weak from not wanting to need,
Still calls for her.


  1. What a story!
    Beautiful and powerful poem!

  2. Some of my poems are similar to this in that I've taken what little I know about my grandparents and created a story around it. This is so beautiful, so powerful. I'm in awe.