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This nurse writes exceptional verse


“American Nurse, American Talent” is an occasional column that showcases nurses’ original artwork and expressions. Participating in the artistic process, whether as artist or observer, encourages us to reflect, connect with our inner selves, and seek new meanings and deeper insights. Through art, we explore ourselves, reinvent ourselves—even heal ourselves.

This month we’re spotlighting the poetry of Cortney Davis, RN, an award-winning poet and a nurse practitioner in women’s health. Her poetry collections include Leopold’s Maneuvers and Details of Flesh. Ms. Davis has also written a memoir, I Knew a Woman: The Experience of the Female Body, and has co-edited two poetry and prose collections by nurses, Between the Heartbeats and Intensive Care. Her poems, essays, and articles are widely published.

You can read more about her at

Women in the Clinic

Women in the clinic come in all shapes and sizes—

squat bottomed as ink bottles, or like pencils, blonde and chewed down.

They arrive clutching their appointment cards. 


Some wear sweet perfume, others the scent

of curry, closed rooms. On the exam table, they lie back

like beach bums, flesh relaxed, knees thrown open.


What wonders they hide in their scarlet vestibules!

One harbors anger and resentment;

another has a baby inside, crooked as a finger.


Leaving the clinic, the women wave good-bye, good-bye.

Their palms rise and fall like phases of the moon;

little children roll after them, like spare change.



Ever since the man in the OR

that Saturday night I was on call,

I don’t like anything messy.


At three a.m. the phone rang.

Car crash, the supervisor said,

one fool on a bender.


The guy was singing even

under anesthesia, every breath

volatile as the gas piped


into his lungs.  We tipped

the table almost upside down

to keep the rancid ooze


inside his stomach and not

all over us.  Skin incision,

then fat and fascia, then


a belly-full of blood

welled up and we bailed

with basins, then our hands.


The guy’s spleen was ripped

in half, his gut sprang out

like a pink snake from a can.


I handed clamps and every catgut

stitch I had, and the spot light

burned down on us like fire.


It took hours to sort vessel  

from nerve, to fit the knobby

liver below the broken ribs again.


I’ve taken pity on you,

left out the really awful part.

But you should see how quiet I am,


cinched in the passenger’s seat;

how carefully I slice bread

into my bare hands;


how I curl on my left side to sleep,

cupping my soft parts.  And this story—

how I’ve tamed it on the page.

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