Night Shifts at the Group Home

By Mary Szybist Mary Szybist

for Lily Mae

The job was easy: I tucked
them in, kicked off my shoes, listened for
the floor to go quiet. Everyone

slept except one: outside her door,
she paced, she hummed, holding
the edge of her torn

nightgown. Pointing, I told
her: to bed. Your bed. But she would not
stay there. She was old,

older than my mother: manic, caught
up in gibberish, determined to
sleep on my cot—

At first it was just to
quiet her. I could only sleep
if she slept, and I needed relief

from myself. That is how she
became a body next to mine
whether or not I wanted there to be

a body. She climbed
into my bed. I let her
sleep hot and damp against my spine.

All night she rocked, she turned,
she poked her spastic elbows
into my calves and slurred

her broken noises in the dark. All the old
fans went round in clicks
those summer nights—and she rolled

in bed and kicked
me in the head and I was
happy. No words, no tricks,

I just didn't love
my loneliness. My mind
felt cooler

with her there. Beside
her, I could have been anyone.
She had no word for me and not the kind

of mind to keep one.
And if she kicked
me, some nights, just

for the fun of it—who was I
to disappoint my one?
Sometimes I imagine I

was someone she won
at a fair as the wheel spun
under the floating, unfaltering sun

and clicked each lucky one
and one
until I was happily undone.

Mary Szybist, "Night Shifts at the Group Home" from Incarnadine. Copyright © 2013 by Mary Szybist.  Reprinted by permission of Graywolf Press.

Source: Incarnadine (Graywolf Press, 2013)

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Poet Mary Szybist

POET’S REGION U.S., Northwestern

Subjects Relationships, Friends & Enemies

Poetic Terms Terza Rima

 Mary  Szybist


Mary Szybist grew up in Pennsylvania. She earned degrees from the University of Virginia and the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, where she was a Teaching-Writing Fellow. Her first collection of poetry, Granted (2003), was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award and the winner of the 2004 Great Lakes Colleges Associations New Writers Award.  Her second book, Incarnadine (2013), won the National Book Award for Poetry. . . .

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Poem Categorization

SUBJECT Relationships, Friends & Enemies

POET’S REGION U.S., Northwestern

Poetic Terms Terza Rima

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Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

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