Creative Writing Awards 2021 Winner: ‘His Feet,’ by Maxwell Shaw-Jones ’23 MSN

The 18th Annual Creative Writing Awards (CWA) were held virtually on April 22, a celebration of the liberal arts deeply embedded in the science and clinical practice of the Yale School of Nursing (YSN) community. After a keynote speech by New York Times Magazine contributing writer Linda Villarosa, each of the three winners read their piece aloud. 

Family Nurse Practitioner (FNP) specialty student Maxwell Shaw-Jones ’23 MSN made the podium with this poignant poem.

‘His Feet’

Near the end, Molly Flannery would come to the house  

where he was dying and she would massage his feet.  

His feet, like mine, were not particularly attractive. 

They bunion-bulged and they gnarled at the toes,  

but were still feet well made for massaging.  

And there was a thing in Molly Flannery which knew  

the truth, that one of the last delights to stay  

after your body finally has been forgotten in pain  

and its own devouring by cells, is a foot rub.  

That remained, even after his appetite went, after the muscles 

faded off his long arms and legs, when he left the bed less 

and less until, finally, never. It was around then  

that Molly Flannery began to come, bringing cocktails  

for my mother, lasagna for my brother and me,  

her black hair billowing straight behind her 

from the car and up to his bed where she’d set  

to working on his feet immediately. 

Here was my father laid out dying. 

And here were her hands that held and held 

as he sighed in that quiet, fading relief.  

I have never stopped loving Molly Flannery for this. 

This love lives in me like a tiny world, a snow globe 

where his pain and my grief becalm 

at the genius of her hand’s sudden tenderness.  

And two days ago, in the hospital after a twelve-hour shift  

with my patient whose brain and lungs crawled  

with that same teeming cellular rage my father knew,

after a day of washing him, 

him moaning and hunting for words the cancer 

had long ago eaten, him looking me in the eyes  

with his mouth widely open, always open,

my shift was suddenly over. I had to go home. 

I understood this man would be dead soon. 

On my way out, I went to the room and took 

his feet in my hands and I held them. I squeezed them, 

first the left, then the right, and told this man 

goodbye. I would be leaving now 

and would not come back in time. 

About the Author

Maxwell Shaw-Jones is a GEPN student in the Family Nurse Practitioner Specialty. In 2018 he graduated from Middlebury College with a degree in English. He spent the following few years alternatively traveling and working a weird, wide range of jobs. After trying out being an island caretaker, a fiberglass laminator, and a museum security guard, he eventually realized he wanted to be a nurse. Maxwell is interested in the ways nursing can be used to address all manner of issues outside of what we typically think of as “health” and will be co-facilitating the Fall 2021 US Health Justice Elective.

Read More CWA Winners

Read the award-winning entries of the other two 2021 honorees: “Monotony“ by Camila Soto Espinoza ’21 MSN and “ ‘Pain, You Say?’ A Nursing Home Monologue,” by Tim McGehee ’22 MSN.