Bernadette D. McComish

Bernadette D McComish
Bernadette December McComish earned her B.A. at Hunter College and her M.F.A. at Sarah Lawrence. She is the recipient of The Helen Galland Loewus Scholarship, and her poems have appeared in Hakol and Sunday Salon. She teaches English and Writing at SUNY Purchase College and The New York City College of Technology. Her collection currently in progress, Hooked, is an exploration of addiction, bondage, and romance.


22 November 1854

In the Kingdom of Hell—
four miles of beds
eighteen inches apart.

That first night—

one man said,
I was dreaming of my friends at home,
and James said, and I was thinking of them.

I am no spy
but I listen to the men,
six limbs between them;

I must rebuild; these soldiers
are dreamers.


23 December 1854

I watch him toss
as if he had two legs.
He's lucky to have his eyes—
so many men are blind,
I tell him.

He says God would never
have taken his eyes,
not before he had the chance to see
my face.

He is the only one
who's ever asked
what's on my mind;
I never tell,
instead I recite lists,
lists of supplies, lists of new patients,
lists of those who died.

He never frowns, or cries,
only asks me more
about me, my favorite food,
I don't have one,
favorite color, white,
favorite flower,
flowers die too soon,
I say, and he just laughs
and promises to send white roses
when he gets home.


5 February 1855

A new batch
of frostbitten stretcher cases arrived
from trench duty today.

We bury every 24 hours.
When we settle
and the air is free from dust,

the mostly murdered cannot march in—

exposed bones covered in white frost,
and the blood returns,
this time from Sevastopol.

This winter's work will not have room for dreams,
it will be taking off
frostbitten feet and closing eyes
frozen open.

Night Pieces

15 February 1855

I fold clean
linen in perfect squares;

stack shirts separate
from medical supplies.

I used to dislike
disinfecting saws and syringes.

Today, I soap silver
and smell metal hands

finally free from blood,
calluses pruned to pulp.

I dry my thumbs,
tuck them into my apron,

when day soaks
into night, I know

the Sandman is near
but he will not steal my eyes.

My routine is regular
not mechanical

I am flesh and fluid—
palpable and ready for bed.