Posted by: jeannineatkins | April 5, 2014

Finding a Way

Finding a Way

Since arriving by ambulance in the dark,

my mother-in-law has been in a different room

every day. So at the front desk I ask for Alice’s room,

which the volunteer gives,

and says, Do you need directions?


I do, but say, I’ll get lost anyway.

Now I take that for granted, along with landmarks

of gift shop, a room with a fish tank,

the view of brown wisteria vines,

the nurses who ask, Can I help you?

Are you lost? Do you know where you’re going? Honestly,

I can’t remember their words, but all are kind.


As I step through the doorway, Alice looks at me

as if I might be anyone, so I say, It’s Jeannine,

and greet the friend who sits beside her bed.

Alice tells me they never brought her ham sandwich.

Her friend shakes her head.

Well, they brought it, but it was turkey, Alice says.

Her friend shakes her head, and whispers, She ate a bit.

More loudly she says, Some people can’t tell ham

from turkey. Then we talk about orange juice.


Alice asks me, Are you Stephanie Knowle?

I say, No.

She says, But you used to be. Before you were married.

I wish I knew who Stephanie Knowle was. A young man


arrives with a neon orange strap and a steel walker.

He says, I’m going to help you try walking.

Alice says, No, but she is interested in his running shoes.

He tries to charm her. Her friend and I offer bribes.

If you walk, maybe you can get home. She still says no.

When the man leaves, Alice asks, Was that the organist?


Apparently I say no a lot, too. I want

to be home and pull a hood over my head,

slip on my fingerless gloves. It’s April, but it’s cold.

I want to break forsythia to force, make banana bread

and have that take a day. For a few hours, no more phone calls

even with people I love. At least I know my way out:

two turns before the fish tank. I tell Alice, I’m going now.


She bends her head for my kiss, then says,

You have to go home and write.





  1. Beautiful Jeannine. Brought tears to my eyes. Xoxo

  2. Extraordinary.

  3. Oh, Jeannine, I am sorry for this. It’s important to be there, but hard for you. I hear it in the words. Kind thoughts for you today!

    • You are always so generous with your kind thoughts and more. Thank you, Linda!

  4. Beautiful and luminous, Jeannine. This spoke to me in more ways than you’ll ever know. Sending love and hugs.

    • I’ve been thinking of you during your hard time, Jama, so am very glad that somehow I spoke to you. Sending back love and hugs.

  5. Stunning. Lovely. A memory so deserving of a poem.

    • Thank you, Heather. I like how you put that. Those small isn things that can slide by, but sometimes we get to snatch and hold them in words.

  6. She does see you. Thinking of you all on this journey


    • Thank you for all your support, Margaret.

  7. Wow! ALL THIS after our “by-chance” hellos at the doorway before the gift shop and the fish tank…

    • Yes, I thought of you while trying to retrace my steps down and around halls. If Kevin can get around here, so can I. The strange small ways we can sometimes give each other a hand: like the bare cafeteria walls which I remembered with your work on them, and so much brighter!

  8. Her parting words were true- whatever else the visit brought, she knew you then. I’m sending you wishes of forsythia and banana bread, Jeannine, and time to write.

    • Yes, Tara, that’s what I felt. That moment of recognition: priceless. How strange when things took another turn come evening, and I thought if I hadn’t written that poem then, I would never have written it. The lens had changed.

      As you know, writing is healing for me, so I’m glad to let the bananas get a little blacker while I write and heal, but I need that sweet scent in the kitchen, and tea, before whatever comes in the next visit.

      Thanks for knowing me, too.

  9. You have to go home and write.
    And you did.
    How absolutely beautiful, Jeannine. Such love, such simple truth of how life moves with all of our humanness and as well, our deep wisdom. Thank you for sharing this. Much love to you and to Alice. ❤

    • Dear Lorraine, what a special treat to see you, which I see clearly behind your words, here. Thank you for your love.

  10. Oh, Jeannine. I am so, so sorry. Sending love.

    • Thank you for that, Becky. Sending love back.

  11. Yes, you did go home and write. Good going! I’m not sure I could have!

    • I’m sure all you’d want sometime is to look at your river. Sometimes I just want to walk and not breathe hospital air. But sometimes I have to write to get impressions out of my mind to wait for patient characters with stories to tell, and this time, the words happened to fall into a poem.

  12. Some days it is good to have the fish tank to go by. Sending love and a virtual walk.
    Not past the fish tank.

    • Thanks for the real love and virtual walk, Mary. I look forward to our next real walk with real Parker and real Millie. I expect there will be fish tank conversations.

  13. That was not intended to be anonymous. Just inept.

  14. Wow!!

  15. Thank you for sharing, Jeannine. The last line broke my heart and yet fired a kind of hope/joy at the same time. Thoughts and prayers for you and yours through these days and hallways.

    • Thank you, Robyn. And I look forward to seeing you soon!

  16. A beautiful, tender tribute to one moment of remembering.

    • Aren’t those moments kind of fascinating — in that they’re all we have? After that afternoon, and writing the poem, I heard things from another visitor that changed the color of what I’d felt and seen — I was glad I’d seized that moment, with its own truth. Hurrah for moments and poems.

  17. I fumbled along these very corridors, not very long ago it seems. Bananas ripened, then spoiled, and my tea cooled to an undrinkable temperature. But I was reminded then (and again now, while reading your achingly beautiful poem), that there’s always another opportunity for baking banana bread; time, too, for brewing another cup. Here and now, though…this is a sacred time and place, albeit uncharted and unscripted. Allow it unfold as it will, knowing in your heart (and writing fingers) that the path will reveal itself, and the words will come. They always do, because….love.

    Tears and hugs, my friend, and virtual tea. I’m traveling with you in spirit, even from this distance. xoxo

    • Thank you for the reminders of blackening bananas just tossed being a strategy, too, as we find our ways through these times you’re right to call sacred. Though that doesn’t preclude some laughter. You’ll have to ask Peter sometime about the fake hospital my mother in law claims she was in. It’s a bit hard for a realist to hear his once very practical, sensible, smart mom take journeys to uncharted places. But what isn’t hard? And what isn’t better with friends? Thank you for your kind understanding. xo

  18. This is a lovely poem, Jeannine—the way the sorrow is carefully managed, the way you (concretely) and Alice (psychologically) both get lost, and both try to find each other—and that’s where the sorrow is, just in that near miss.

    • Thank you, Brad. And I’m glad to have discovered your blog. What can be better than prose, poetry, and a bit of science, all seen from your careful eye?

  19. It’s like you to make something beautiful out of something so hard, Jeannine. Thinking of you and all your family with love. xo

    • Thank you for your sweetness. Sending love back. Every day seems to bring something new…

  20. Jeannine, Your story tells a truth to so many of us. Thank you for being willing to take your day and make it ours, to make your sadness and help us understand how much we are all the same. And for the reminder that even in the dark – there are “tulips!” and recognition too. xo

    • What a lovely thing to say, Amy. That exchange of worlds is what we keep attempting at our desks, and there’s that respite from loneliness when it happens. xo

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