Elizabeth Smither


The nurses are coming

2.55 p.m. and a swing door opens
and five nurses in dark blue

mid-calf-length slacks and V-necked
tops adorned with silver watches

each with a chart in her hand
detailing the last vital recordings

the progression of signs which they
assess at a glance. In Room 5

all but one line is being taken out
and the morphine is two-hourly.

A head sinks into a little folded towel
deep in a pillow, like a snow angel

and the nurses walk, bunched together
down the polished linoleum, past

the open doors of the dire, not looking
yet, just walking, just coming on

the way stars come out, flicker
and gleam: We are here, we are arriving.



Elizabeth Smither’s recent collection of poetry, The year of adverbs (Auckland University Press) was published in 2007. A novel Lola will be published in early 2010 by Penguin.

About ‘The Nurses are coming’, Smither writes: “My friend, Jean, aged 83 was dying and one afternoon a group of visitors were standing in the doorway, talking to a doctor who was telling us the news was bad, when a new shift of nurses appeared at the end of the corridor. I loved the way they walked the length of the ward together, not quite on duty, but proud and confident in their vocation.”