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Poems for August 2013

Posted by mcdoc on August 6, 2013

Rafael Campo

(1964 – )

Morbidity and Mortality Rounds
hippocrates_prize_logo_med

Forgive me, body before me, for this.
Forgive me for my bumbling hands, unschooled
in how to touch: I meant to understand
what fever was, not love. Forgive me for
my stare, but when I look at you, I see
myself laid bare. Forgive me, body, for
what seems like calculation when I take
a breath before I cut you with my knife,
because the cancer has to be removed.
Forgive me for not telling you, but I’m
no poet. Please forgive me, please. Forgive
my gloves, my callous greeting, my unease—
you must not realize I just met death
again. Forgive me if I say he looked
impatient. Please, forgive me my despair,
which once seemed more like recompense. Forgive
my greed, forgive me for not having more
to give you than this bitter pill. Forgive:
for this apology, too late, for those
like me whose crimes might seem innocuous
and yet whose cruelty was obvious.
Forgive us for these sins. Forgive me, please,
for my confusing heart that sounds so much
like yours. Forgive me for the night, when I
sleep too, beside you under the same moon.
Forgive me for my dreams, for my rough knees,
for giving up too soon. Forgive me, please,
for losing you, unable to forgive.

“Morbidity and Mortality Rounds” by Rafael Campo from Alternative Medicine, Duke University Press. ©2013 Rafael Campo. Reprinted with permission of the author.

Gerard Manley Hopkins
(1844 – 1889)

Pied Beauty

Glory be to God for dappled things–

For skies of couple-colour as a brinded cow;

For rose-moles all in stipple upon trout that swim;

Fresh-firecoal chestnut-falls; finches’ wings;

Landscape plotted and pieced–fold, fallow, and plough;

And all trades, their gear and tackle and trim.

All things counter, original, spare, strange;

Whatever is fickle, freckled (who knows how?)

With swift, slow; sweet, sour; adazzle, dim;

He fathers-forth whose beauty is past change:

Praise Him.

“Pied Beauty” by Gerard Manley Hopkins written 1877.

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Poems for May 2013

Posted by mcdoc on May 1, 2013

Susan F. Glassmeyer
(1949 – )

I Tell You

I could not predict the fullness
of the day. How it was enough
to stand alone without help
in the green yard at dawn.

How two geese would spin out
of the ochre sun opening my spine,
curling my head up to the sky
in an arc I took for granted.

And the lilac bush by the red
brick wall flooding the air
with its purple weight of beauty?
How it made my body swoon,

brought my arms to reach for it
without even thinking.
*
In class today a Dutch woman split
in two by a stroke – one branch
of her body a petrified silence,
walked leaning on her husband

to the treatment table while we
the unimpaired looked on with envy.
How he dignified her wobble,
beheld her deformation, untied her

shoe, removed the brace that stakes
her weaknesses. How he cradled
her down in his arms to the table
smoothing her hair as if they were

alone in their bed. I tell you –
his smile would have made you weep.
*
At twilight I visit my garden
where the peonies are about to burst.

Some days there will be more
flowers than the vase can hold.

“I Tell You” by Susan F. Glassmeyer, from Body Matters Pudding House Chapbook Series, Columbus, OH. Used with permission © Susan F. Glassmeyer, 2010.

David Wagoner
(1926 – )

The Escaped Gorilla

When he walked out in the park that early evening
just before closing time, he didn’t take
the nearest blonde in one arm and climb a tree
to wait for the camera crews. He didn’t savage
anyone in uniform, upend cars
or beat his chest or scream, and nobody screamed
when they found him hiding behind the holly hedge
by the zoo office where he waited for someone

to take him by the hand and walk with him
around two corners and along a pathway
through the one door that wasn’t supposed to be open
and back to the oblong place with the hard sky
where all of his unbreakable toys were waiting
to be broken, with the wall he could see through,
but not as far as the place he almost remembered,
which was too far away to be anywhere.

“The Escaped Gorilla” by David Wagoner, from A Map of the Night. © University of Illinois Press, 2008.

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Poems for December 2012

Posted by mcdoc on December 7, 2012

Ronald Wallace
(1945 – )

The Truth

for Amy

Her breast cancer, she said,
had metastasized to her liver;
she was going to die, and
soon. She said it made her
sad. I didn’t know her well.
We were co-workers and
I liked her, but
what do you say when someone
actually answers the question
how are you?
with the unvarnished truth:
Not well, she said. I haven’t
long to live. And should I
have said Oh you will! Should I
have smoothed it over
with the syrup of nervousness,
or done what I did
which was to
talk about terror and anger,
the unfairness and the lie,
to take the truth at face value?
No, she was just sad, she said.
She had her faith, she said,
and started to cry. And only then
did I see what she needed from me
was miracle, a simple belief
in miracle, and if that was varnish,
well, it would bring the grain
of the truth out, would save it
from wear and weather.
It would make the truth
almost shine.

“The Truth” by Ronald Wallace, from Long for this World. © University of Pittsburgh Press, 2003. Reprinted with permission.

David Wagoner
(1926 – )

The Escaped Gorilla

When he walked out in the park that early evening
just before closing time, he didn’t take
the nearest blonde in one arm and climb a tree
to wait for the camera crews. He didn’t savage
anyone in uniform, upend cars
or beat his chest or scream, and nobody screamed
when they found him hiding behind the holly hedge
by the zoo office where he waited for someone

to take him by the hand and walk with him
around two corners and along a pathway
through the one door that wasn’t supposed to be open
and back to the oblong place with the hard sky
where all of his unbreakable toys were waiting
to be broken, with the wall he could see through,
but not as far as the place he almost remembered,
which was too far away to be anywhere.

“The Escaped Gorilla” by David Wagoner, from A Map of the Night. © University of Illinois Press, 2008.

Posted in End-of-Life, medical humanities, Monthly Poetry Installment | Tagged: , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Poems for September 2012

Posted by mcdoc on September 17, 2012

Joseph Mills

The Guardian

I don’t think my brother realized all
the responsibilities involved in being
her guardian, not just the paperwork
but the trips to the dentist and Wal-Mart,
the making sure she has underwear,
money to buy Pepsis, the crying calls
because she has no shampoo even though
he has bought her several bottles recently.
We talk about how he might bring this up
with the staff, how best to delicately ask
if they’re using her shampoo on others
or maybe just allowing her too much.
“You only need a little, Mom,” he said,
“Not a handful.” “I don’t have any!”
she shouted before hanging up. Later
he finds a bottle stashed in her closet
and two more hidden in the bathroom
along with crackers, spoons, and socks.
Afraid someone might steal her things,
she hides them, but then not only forgets
where, but that she ever had them at all.

I tease my brother, “You always wanted
another kid.” He doesn’t laugh. She hated
her father, and, in this second childhood,
she resents the one who takes care of her.
When I call, she complains about how
my brother treats her and how she hasn’t
seen him in years. If I explain everything
he’s doing, she admires the way I stick up
for him. Doing nothing means I do nothing
wrong. This is love’s blindness and love’s
injustice. It’s why I expect to hear anger
or bitterness in my brother’s voice, and why
each time we talk, no matter how closely
I listen, I’m astonished to hear only love.

“The Guardian” by Joseph Mills, from Love and Other Collisions. Published by Press 53, © Joseph Mills, 2010.

John O’Donohue
(1956 – 2008)

For a New Beginning

In out-of-the-way places of the heart,
Where your thoughts never think to wander,
This beginning has been quietly forming,
Waiting until you were ready to emerge.

For a long time it has watched your desire,
Feeling the emptiness growing inside you,
Noticing how you willed yourself on,
Still unable to leave what you had outgrown.

It watched you play with the seduction of safety
And the gray promises that sameness whispered,
Heard the waves of turmoil rise and relent,
Wondered would you always live like this.

Then the delight, when your courage kindled,
And out you stepped onto new ground,
Your eyes young again with energy and dream,
A path of plenitude opening before you.

Though your destination is not yet clear
You can trust the promise of this opening;
Unfurl yourself into the grace of beginning
That is at one with your life’s desire.

Awaken your spirit to adventure;
Hold nothing back, learn to find ease in risk;
Soon you will be home in a new rhythm,
For your soul senses the world that awaits you.

“For a New Beginning” by John O’Donohue, from To Bless the Space Between Us: A Book of Blessings. Published by Harmony Books, © John O’Donohue, 2008.

Posted in medical humanities, Monthly Poetry Installment, Uncategorized | Tagged: , , , | Leave a Comment »

Poems for July 2012

Posted by mcdoc on July 3, 2012

Mary Oliver

The Summer Day

Who made the world?
Who made the swan, and the black bear?
Who made the grasshopper?
This grasshopper, I mean–
the one who has flung herself out of the grass,
the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,
who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down,
who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.
Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.
Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.

I don’t know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?

“The Summer Day” by Mary Oliver, from The Truro Bear and Other Adventures: Poems and Essays © Beacon Press, 2008.

Mark Doty

Brilliance

Maggie’s taking care of a man
who’s dying; he’s attended to everything,
said goodbye to his parents,

paid off his credit card.
She says Why don’t you just
run it up to the limit?

but he wants everything
squared away, no balance owed,
though he misses the pets

he’s already found a home for
— he can’t be around dogs or cats,
too much risk. He says,

I can’t have anything.
She says, A bowl of goldfish?
He says he doesn’t want to start

with anything and then describes
the kind he’d maybe like,
how their tails would fan

to a gold flaring. They talk
about hot jewel tones,
gold lacquer, say maybe

they’ll go pick some out
though he can’t go much of anywhere and then
abruptly he says I can’t love

anything I can’t finish.
He says it like he’s had enough
of the whole scintillant world,

though what he means is
he’ll never be satisfied and therefore
has established this discipline,

a kind of severe rehearsal.
That’s where they leave it,
him looking out the window,

her knitting as she does because
she needs to do something.
Later he leaves a message:

Yes to the bowl of goldfish.
Meaning: let me go, if I have to,
in brilliance. In a story I read,

a Zen master who’d perfected
his detachment from the things of the world
remembered, at the moment of dying,

a deer he used to feed in the park,
and wondered who might care for it,
and at that instant was reborn

in the stunned flesh of a fawn.
So, Maggie’s friend?
Is he going out

Into the last loved object
Of his attention?
Fanning the veined translucence

Of an opulent tail,
Undulant in some uncapturable curve
Is he bronze chrysanthemums,

Copper leaf, hurried darting,
Doubloons, icon-colored fins
Troubling the water?

“Brillance” by Mark Doty, from My Alexandria © Mark Doty 1983.

Posted in End-of-Life, medical humanities, Monthly Poetry Installment, Solstitial Poem | Tagged: , , , | 1 Comment »

Poems for June 2012

Posted by mcdoc on June 1, 2012

Raymond Carver
(1938-1988)

What the Doctor Said

He said it doesn’t look good
he said it looks bad in fact real bad
he said I counted thirty-two of them on one lung before
I quit counting them
I said I’m glad I wouldn’t want to know
about any more being there than that
he said are you a religious man do you kneel down
in forest groves and let yourself ask for help
when you come to a waterfall
mist blowing against your face and arms
do you stop and ask for understanding at those moments
I said not yet but I intend to start today
he said I’m real sorry he said
I wish I had some other kind of news to give you
I said Amen and he said something else
I didn’t catch and not knowing what else to do
and not wanting him to have to repeat it
and me to have to fully digest it
I just looked at him
for a minute and he looked back it was then
I jumped up and shook hands with this man who’d just given me
something no one else on earth had ever given me
I may have even thanked him habit being so strong

“What the Doctor Said” by Raymond Carver from A New Path to the Waterfall. © Atlantic Monthly Press, 1989.

Dana Gioia
(1950 – )

Finding a Box of Family Letters

The dead say little in their letters
they haven’t said before.
We find no secrets, and yet
how different every sentence sounds
heard across the years.

My father breaks my heart
simply by being so young and handsome.
He’s half my age, with jet-black hair.
Look at him in his navy uniform
grinning beside his dive-bomber.

Come back, Dad! I want to shout.
He says he misses all of us
(though I haven’t yet been born).
He writes from places I never knew he saw,
and everyone he mentions now is dead.

There is a large, long photograph
curled like a diploma—a banquet sixty years ago.
My parents sit uncomfortably
among tables of dark-suited strangers.
The mildewed paper reeks of regret.

I wonder what song the band was playing,
just out of frame, as the photographer
arranged your smiles. A waltz? A foxtrot?
Get out there on the floor and dance!
You don’t have forever.

What does it cost to send a postcard
to the underworld? I’ll buy
a penny stamp from World War II
and mail it downtown at the old post office
just as the courthouse clock strikes twelve.

Surely the ghost of some postal worker
still makes his nightly rounds, his routine
too tedious for him to notice when it ended.
He works so slowly he moves back in time
carrying our dead letters to their lost addresses.

It’s silly to get sentimental.
The dead have moved on. So should we.
But isn’t it equally simpleminded to miss
the special expertise of the departed
in clarifying our long-term plans?

They never let us forget that the line
between them and us is only temporary.
Get out there and dance! the letters shout
adding, Love always. Can’t wait to get home!
And soon we will be. See you there.

“Finding a Box of Family Letters” by Dana Gioia, from Pity the Beautiful. © Graywolf Press, 2012. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

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Poems for April 2012

Posted by mcdoc on April 13, 2012

Wesley McNair
(1941 – )

Old Guys

Driving beyond a turn in the mist
of a certain morning, you’ll find them
beside a men-at-work sign,
standing around with their caps on
like penguins, all bellies and bills.
They’ll be watching what the yellow truck
is doing and how. Old guys know trucks,
having spent days on their backs under them
or cars. You’ve seen the gray face
of the garage mechanic lying on his pallet, old
before his time, and the gray, as he turns
his wrench looking up through the smoke
of his cigarette, around the pupil
of his eye. This comes from concentrating
on things the rest of us refuse
to be bothered with, like the thickening
line of dirt in front of the janitor’s
push broom as he goes down the hall, or the same
ten eyelets inspector number four checks
on the shoe, or the box after box
the newspaper man brings to a stop
in the morning dark outside the window
of his car. Becoming expert in such details
is what has made the retired old guy
behind the shopping cart at the discount store
appear so lost. Beside him his large wife,
who’s come through poverty and starvation
of feeling, hungry for promises of more
for less, knows just where she is,
and where and who she is sitting by his side
a year or so later in the hospital
as he lies stunned by the failure of his heart
or lung. “Your father” is what she calls him,
wearing her permanent expression
of sadness, and the daughter, obese
and starved herself, calls him “Daddy,”
a child’s word, crying for a tenderness
the two of them never knew. Nearby, her husband,
who resembles his father-in-law in spite
of his Elvis sideburns, doesn’t say
even to himself what’s going on inside him,
only grunts and stares as if the conversation
they were having concerned a missing bolt
or some extra job the higher-ups just gave him
because this is what you do when you’re bound,
after an interminable, short life to be an old guy.

David Whyte
(1971 – )

Sometimes

Sometimes
if you move carefully
through the forest

breathing
like the ones
in the old stories

who could cross
a shimmering bed of dry leaves
without a sound,

you come
to a place
whose only task

is to trouble you
with tiny
but frightening requests

conceived out of nowhere
but in this place
beginning to lead everywhere.

Requests to stop what
you are doing right now,
and

to stop what you
are becoming
while you do it,

questions
that can make
or unmake
a life,

questions
that have patiently
waited for you,

questions
that have no right
to go away.

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Engage With Grace 2011: Occupy With Grace

Posted by mcdoc on November 24, 2011

The term “Blog Rally” was coined in 2008 with the phenomenon of concerted blogging in support of the movement called, “Engage with Grace: The One Slide Project.” Engage With Grace was organized to encourage family members to discuss what is important to them with respect to end-of-life care issues. The timing coincides with the annual American Thanksgiving holiday weekend. The idea being to capitalize on the fact that many families gather together in particular over Thanksgiving.

This is a movement you can easily get behind in person if you are an advocate for good patient centered health care, which you likely are if you are reading this blog. So donate your blog, Facebook update, Twitter account (#EWG) to Engage With Grace this holiday weekend. And then put your money where your mouth is and bring it up yourself while your family is together.

Here is the this year’s post from the Alexandra Drane and the Engage With Grace Team:

Occupy With Grace
Once again, this Thanksgiving we are grateful to all the people who keep this mission alive day after day: to ensure that each and every one of us understands, communicates, and has honored their end of life wishes.

Seems almost more fitting than usual this year, the year of making change happen. 2011 gave us the Arab Spring, people on the ground using social media to organize a real political revolution. And now, love it or hate it – it’s the Occupy Wall Street movement that’s got people talking.

Smart people (like our good friend Susannah Fox) have made the point that unlike those political and economic movements, our mission isn’t an issue we need to raise our fists about – it’s an issue we have the luxury of being able to hold hands about.

It’s a mission that’s driven by all the personal stories we’ve heard of people who’ve seen their loved ones suffer unnecessarily at the end of their lives.

It’s driven by that ripping-off-the-band-aid feeling of relief you get when you’ve finally broached the subject of end of life wishes with your family, free from the burden of just not knowing what they’d want for themselves, and knowing you could advocate for these wishes if your loved one weren’t able to speak up for themselves.

And it’s driven by knowing that this is a conversation that needs to happen early, and often. One of the greatest gifts you can give the ones you love is making sure you’re all on the same page. In the words of the amazing Atul Gawande, “you only die once!” Die the way you want. Make sure your loved ones get that same gift. And there is a way to engage in this topic with grace!

Here are the five questions, read them, consider them, answer them (you can securely save your answers at the Engage with Grace site), share your answers with your loved ones. It doesn’t matter what your answers are, it just matters that you know them for yourself, and for your loved ones. And they for you.

We all know the power of a group that decides to assemble. In fact, we recently spent an amazing couple days with the members of the Coalition to Transform Advanced Care, or C-TAC, working together to channel so much of the extraordinary work that organizations are already doing to improve the quality of care for our country’s sickest and most vulnerable.

Noted journalist Eleanor Clift gave an amazing talk, finding a way to weave humor and joy into her telling of the story she shared in this Health Affairs article. She elegantly sums up (as only she can) the reason that we have this blog rally every year:

For too many physicians, that conversation is hard to have, and families, too, are reluctant to initiate a discussion about what Mom or Dad might want until they’re in a crisis, which isn’t the best time to make these kinds of decisions. Ideally, that conversation should begin at the kitchen table with family members, rather than in a doctor’s office.

It’s a conversation you need to have wherever and whenever you can, and the more people you can rope into it, the better! Make this conversation a part of your Thanksgiving weekend, there will be a right moment, you just might not realize how right it was until you begin the conversation.

This is a time to be inspired, informed – to tackle our challenges in real, substantive, and scalable ways. Participating in this blog rally is just one small, yet huge, way that we can each keep that fire burning in our bellies, long after the turkey dinner is gone.

Wishing you and yours a happy and healthy holiday season. Let’s Engage with Grace together.

To learn more please go to www.engagewithgrace.org.

This post was developed by Alexandra Drane and the Engage With Grace team.

Posted in Blog Rally, End-of-Life, Engage With Grace, medical humanities | Tagged: , , , , | 1 Comment »

Poems for November 2011

Posted by mcdoc on November 4, 2011

Linda Hogan
(1947 – )

The Way In

Sometimes the way to milk and honey is through the body.
Sometimes the way in is a song.
But there are three ways in the world: dangerous, wounding,
and beauty.
To enter stone, be water.
To rise through hard earth, be plant
desiring sunlight, believing in water.
To enter fire, be dry.
To enter life, be food.

Ronald Wallace
(1945 – )

Obituary

Just once, you say,
you’d like to see
an obituary in which
the deceased didn’t succumb
after “a heroic struggle” with cancer,
or heart disease, or Alzheimer’s, or
whatever it was
that finally took him down.
Just once, you say,
couldn’t the obit read:
He got sick and quit.
He gave up the ghost.
He put up no fight at all.
Rolled over. Bailed out.
Got out while the getting was good.
Excused himself from life’s feast.
You’re making a joke and
I laugh, though you can’t know
I’m considering exactly that:
no radical prostatectomy for me,
no matter what General Practitioner
and Major Oncologist may say.
I think, let that walnut-sized
pipsqueak have its way with me,
that pebble in cancer’s slingshot
that brings dim Goliath down.
So, old friend, before I go
and take all the wide world with me,
I want you to know
I picked up the tip.
I skipped the main course,
I’m here in the punch line.
Old friend, the joke’s on me.

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Poems for August 2011

Posted by mcdoc on August 12, 2011

John Stone
(1936 – 2008)

Whittling: The Last Class

What has been written
about whittling
is not true

most of it

It is the discovery
that keeps
the fingers moving

not idleness

but the knife looking for
the right plane
that will let the secret out

Whittling is no pastime

he says
who has been whittling
in spare minutes at the wood

of his life for forty years

Three rules he thinks
have helped
Make small cuts

In this way

you may be able to stop before
what was to be an arm
has to be something else

Always whittle away from yourself

and toward something.
For God’s sake
and your own
know when to stop

Whittling is the best example
I know of what most
may happen when

least expected

bad or good
Hurry before
angina comes like a pair of pliers

over your left shoulder

There is plenty of wood
for everyone
and you

Go ahead now

May you find
in the waiting wood
rough unspoken

what is true

or
nearly true
or

true enough.

Louise Bogan
(1897 – 1970)

The Dragonfly

You are made of almost nothing
But of enough
To be great eyes
And diaphanous double vans;
To be ceaseless movement,
Unending hunger,
Grappling love.

Link between water and air,
Earth repels you.
Light touches you only to shift into iridescence
Upon your body and wings.

Twice-born, predator,
You split into the heat.
Swift beyond calculation or capture
You dart into the shadow
Which consumes you.

You rocket into the day.
But at last, when the wind flattens the grasses,
For you, the design and purpose stop.

And you fall
With the other husks of summer.

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