An ode to her amputated leg

The truncated calf springs upward

as if summoned by the ceiling.

Mom said it’s like a teenage erection,

bounding from the hospital gown–

a body part under

no one’s control.

So grandma’s got a stump now.

And she can’t harness or subdue it

like the horse she once cantered,

her two legs gripping the girth,

her two legs holding her steady

high in the stirrups.

Now she sits in a sterilized chair

with one lonely foot on the floor

and one knee poking out,

capped in fresh bandage.

And she thinks I can come for lunch

even though it’s 11:30 in the morning

and I live 500 miles away.

“We’ve got lots to eat. Just come on.”


I’m not sure she knows her leg is missing.

The calf was rotten, and wrapped in gauze.

But she wonders why no one’s changed her bandage.

In her head she still nurses the old wound.

“Sheila’s late,” she says. “Where is that cute surgeon?”

It’s the rehab guy, prepping her for the prosthesis.

“I’m going to need new shoes,” she says.

“No, you’re not,” says my mother. “You are going to need half as many shoes.”

“I don’t understand,” says my grandmother.

“You are missing a leg.”

Three babies have slipped down that leg, into the world.

Three babies have stood at that foot and listened.


When my grandfather died, we found an envelope marked “pornography” in his handwriting.

Photos of my grandmother’s naked legs in a bathtub.

He is not here to see this, or to lie beside the blank in their bed.

One leg to last until she dies.

Legs aren’t resurrected.

Legs are left in the operating room, their expired wounds gaping at the orderlies. And then out with the trash.

My grandmother’s stallion leg. Her narrow foot that only fit into special-order shoes.

And then her stump pops towards the wall and everyone screams.

She is different now, with her halfway limb. She weighs two pounds less.

It was a skinny leg.


On Monday I found myself grieving. I woke up and knew her leg was gone. I went to bed and missed her leg. Was it incinerated? Recycled?

Where will she put her stocking?

The blood reaches the knee and wonders where to go next.


I miss my calf, my shin. I miss my five little toes. I will never paint my toenails again. I will never feel another sandal on this foot. I will never be scratched on the ankle by Mama Cat or the rosebush. I will never tweeze another splinter from this sole.


My mother sat on the hospital bed where the leg would have been. My grandmother shrieked and jerked her stump into the air.


I’m in mourning for a leg. A skin and bones leg that leaned against a metal walker for six months. An emaciated leg I pushed in a wheelchair from the car to the clinic. A shadow of a leg that held its infection for a year. I changed the bandages. I saw the blood come and go.

On Monday I stayed in bed for a leg. I knew it was gone when I woke up. Then I couldn’t move from the waist down. Someone I loved was lopsided. Someone I loved could capsize on the floor when walking to the bathroom in the middle of the night. She might forget about the empty space. How long does it take to know your amputation? Someone must sit there to remind her: “You only have one leg left.”

I miss your leg. Even though some people have said goodbye to much more, I miss the part of your body that we knew, that we lost.

7 Thoughts on “An ode to her amputated leg

  1. Your mother's brother in law on May 14, 2008 at 8:14 pm said:

    I am sorry, Wis.

  2. Thanks, Chris. I think I’m more depressed about this than Big W. I spoke to her on the phone this morning and she sounded cheerful and ready to hop around.

  3. Alice on May 19, 2008 at 4:55 pm said:

    I’m sorry too, Wistars. It’s odd to have to grieve for somebody – I mean grieve FOR somebody. My grandma’s going dotty too, and it’s strange how the loss of her personality upsets me more than it does her.

  4. I’m very sorry, Wistar. I hope you and your grandmother are both able to find some peace about this loss.

    This piece is *stunning*, by the way. One of the strongest poems I’ve read in awhile, from any source.

  5. Thanks, Matt! I wrote it with my Magnetic Poetry kit.

    I really like your Twittery website. Great design and great linkage.

  6. Pingback: The Blog of Wistar Watts Murray » Last week’s news for today’s young Americans

  7. I to am an amputee. I lost my leg 5 years ago. Unfortunately I have discovered it never goes away. You never truly bcome used to it. Because my foot used to swell so bad I always enjoyed taking my shoe and sock off at the end of the day. and standing in cool running water or sand or grass. I will never know that sensation again. I wish you all the best.

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