Eleanor at 7 a.m.

a poem by 
MARIANNE PEEL | Teacher + Poet

“Eleanor at 7 a.m.” deals with my very first job after retiring from a 32 year career as an English teacher.  Eleanor was my first client in the world of senior citizen stay-at-home care.  

THESE days she works for Home Instead,
easing the lives of seniors who want to stay home,
to not be a burden, to stir their own cream in their coffee.
She arrives to Eleanor at 7 a.m., knowing the sheets and Eleanor
will be drenched in determined urine.
Her hands and arms brace themselves beneath her back,
supporting her right side, muscles atrophied from stroke.

Eleanor tells of her running days, of the half marathons.
Bathing her with the softest loofah,
she can feel the definition in the thighs, the runner’s legs.
Touching her breasts gently, circular motions of lavender soap.
Eleanor reminds her that those breasts fed twelve babies, four of whom are long gone.
She takes Eleanor’s feet in her hands,
rubbing between and around the hammer toes and bunions.

When all the folds and creases are tended to and cleaned,
she lifts Eleanor out of the water,
placing Eleanor’s arms around her shoulders.
Her wet body leaves a Shroud of Turin imprint on her clothes.
She reaches for the softest towel, draping it, like a shawl,
around her shoulders, her back, her buttocks.
Don’t ever let me go, Eleanor tells her. Hold me close, keeping me steady and safe.  

She wraps Eleanor in an oversize pullover sweatshirt,
in sweat pants with elastic waist.
I used to be a Talbots woman, she tells her.
Used to wear only the most elegant clothes.
Her right side is rigid, refusing to cooperate
with scarecrow sleeves and pant legs.
She hears Eleanor’s breath quicken and then sigh,
as she apologizes for her stubbornly stiff body.
There is a teas set, laid out on a white lace doily,
silver spoon next to the cornflower teacup.
The pot brims with chamomile tea, her favorite on Wednesdays.
This soothes her in her jagged places.
Sing me my favorite song, she says.
And so together, they sing You Are My Sunshine,
harmonizing between warm sips of tea.

Photograph by Cristian Newman