McDoc

Just another Medical Humanities Blog

Poems for August 2012

Posted by mcdoc on August 20, 2012

Brian McMichael
(1961 – )

Ode to the Peach

You are called by your color
yet by summer
you become sun-tinted
taking on to yourself
the prerogative of the redhead
and on the inside too –
the deeper you go the redder you get
intensifying to the color of blood

My soft, fuzzy love
you fill my hand
with your yielding
rounded density
you invite me with
your voluptuous curves
your feminine little cleft

Your succulent sweetness
evokes in me the desire to
delve into you
to eat you
to eat you until your juice
runs down my chin
I will not want to stop
once I start

Even when I sink my teeth
into your luscious flesh
you make only the sound
of a heart between two beats
tasting nearly like nothing
delicate, fragrant, with a hint of sharpness

In the late summer
You become most indiscreet
your overripenesses
fall to the ground
becoming oozy, squishy masses
like dung –
stinking and attracting flies
then I can’t stand you

Even into the autumn
You are inescapable
your slices unexpectedly
peek at me
from my bowl of milk
you cruelly snuggle
into my ice cream
and usurp every dessert –
shamelessly splayed
atop the tarts, the cobblers
the pies for all to see

Oh, Fruit of the Deep South
alone, in the dark winter
I break down
tormented by
your one solid defect
that when I had finally
arrived at your core
I found your hard, little brain
where your heart should have been

“Ode to the Peach” by Brian McMichael. © Brian McMichael, 2005.

Denise Levertov
(1923 – 1997)

Celebration

Brilliant, this day—a young virtuoso of a day.
Morning shadows cut by sharpest scissors,
deft hands. And every prodigy of green—
whether it’s ferns or lichen or needles
or impatient points of bud on spindly bushes—
greener than ever before.
And the way the conifers
hold new cones to the light for blessing,
a festive rite, and sing the oceanic chant the wind
transcribes for them!
A day that shines in the cold
like a first-prize brass band swinging along the street
of a coal-dusty village, wholly at odds
with the claims of reasonable gloom.

“Celebration” by Denise Levertov, from This Great Unknowing. © New Directions Publishing, 1999.

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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 May 2012

Posted by mcdoc on May 2, 2012

Sheri Hostetler
(1962 – )

Instructions

Give up the world; give up self; finally, give up God.
Find god in rhododendrons and rocks,
passers-by, your cat.
Pare your beliefs, your absolutes.
Make it simple; make it clean.
No carry-on luggage allowed.
Examine all you have
with a loving and critical eye, then
throw away some more.
Repeat. Repeat.
Keep this and only this:
what your heart beats loudly for
what feels heavy and full in your gut.
There will only be one or two
things you will keep,
and they will fit lightly
in your pocket.

“Instructions” by Sheri Hostetler, from the anthology A Cappella: Mennonite Voices in Poetry. University of Iowa Press, © Sheri Hostetler 2003. Reprinted with permission of the author.

Thomas Centolella

Splendor

One day it’s the clouds,
one day the mountains.
One day the latest bloom
of roses – the pure monochromes,
the dazzling hybrids – inspiration
for the cathedral’s round windows.
Every now and then
there’s the splendor
of thought: the singular
idea and its brilliant retinue –
words, cadence, point of view,
little gold arrows flitting
between the lines.
And too the splendor
of no thought at all:
hands lying calmly
in the lap, or swinging
a six iron with effortless
tempo. More often than not
splendor is the star we orbit
without a second thought,
especially as it arrives
and departs. One day
it’s the blue glassy bay,
one day the night
and its array of jewels,
visible and invisible.
Sometimes it’s the warm clarity
of a face that finds your face
and doesn’t turn away.
Sometimes a kindness, unexpected,
that will radiate farther
than you might imagine.
One day it’s the entire day
itself, each hour foregoing
its number and name,
its cumbersome clothes, a day
that says come as you are,
large enough for fear and doubt,
with room to spare: the most secret
wish, the deepest, the darkest,
turned inside out.

“Splendor” by Thomas Centolella, from Views from along the Middle Way. © Copper Canyon Press 2002.

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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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Poems for March 2012

Posted by mcdoc on March 1, 2012

Franz Wright
(1953 – )

The Hawk

Maybe in a million years
a better form of human
being will come, happier
and more intelligent. A few already
have infiltrated this world and lived
to very much regret it,
I suppose.
Me,
I’d prefer to have come
in the form of that hawk, floating over
the mirroring fire
of Clearlake’s
hill, my gold
skull filled with nothing
but God’s will
the whole day through, instead
of these glinting voices incessantly
unerringly guiding me
to pursue
what makes me sick, and not to
what makes me glad. And yet
I am changing: this three-pound lump
of sentient meat electrified
by hope and terror has learned to hear
His silence like the sun,
and sought to change!
And friends
on earth at the same time
as me, listen: from the sound of those crickets
last night, Rene Char said
prenatal life
must have been sweet –
each voice perhaps also a star
in that night
from which
this time
we won’t be
interrupted anymore – but
fellow monsters while we are still here, for one minute, think
about this: there is someone right now who is looking
to you, not Him, for whatever
love still exists.

Stephen Dobyns
(1941- )

Sun Gazers

My stepdaughter is three and we have some games
we play when she gets back from day care and I
have finished my work for the day. In one game,
while I try to find her she climbs on a chair
and closes her eyes because with her eyes shut
she thinks I can’t see her but must prowl around
calling her name, which I do to amuse her.
Then tiptoeing back I give her a slight poke,
which pleases her as proof of my cleverness,
that I’ve found her secret place in all that dark.
The mind too, I think, has many eyes, which we
open one by one, as if the world’s too bright,
as waking at night and turning on the lamp
I keep an eye squinched shut and feel unprepared
to face the glare. My stepdaughter with eyes shut
feels safe as I circle her dark hiding place—
to look around her means perceiving danger,
yet soon she will come to look into the light.
Death too is a kind of light, a larger sun
we spend our lives learning to look into
as if by seeing we might defeat our end,
like those Indian holy men who live by
staring at the sun, trying to discover
what lies past common sight, and so die blind.

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Poems for February 2012

Posted by mcdoc on February 9, 2012

Ann Campanella

Mid February

The day is warm and dank as early summer.
Crows scream and pitch in the woods
like the ruckus of old women fighting
for the shreds of their lives.

A sudden silence — then the hum
of a black-winged cloud oozing
through the naked sky —
the ruckus begins again.

Under the layers of winter grey,
the farm is pale and muted, the barn doors
shut tight. The only animals in sight
an earth-brown squirrel and these harbinger birds.

I am waiting for the sun to shine again,
to learn how to unfurl my heart in its warmth.
These days, neither long nor short, bright nor dark,
wet nor dry, fill me with a sadness I cannot name.

Yesterday was Valentine’s Day, a day of love
and chocolate. My father, born eighty-one years ago,
always bought red cardboard hearts full of truffles
for my mother, my sister and me. Now he is gone.

This morning, the doctor taps his pencil
against the screen. A six-week ultrasound.
There, that’s the heartbeat.
A tiny flutter outlined by grey.

Joseph Mills

The Husband

He comes every day to eat lunch and sit
with her in the sun room. Sometimes he reads
letters out loud from their children or friends;
sometimes he reads the paper as she sleeps.
One day the staff makes her favorite cake
to celebrate their anniversary,
and he tells how, to buy her ring, he worked
months of overtime at the factory,
so she thought he was seeing someone else.
“As if I would look at other women
when I have Pearl,” he says, shaking his head.
She begins to cry and tells him, “You’re sweet,
but I miss my husband.” He pats her hand.
“I know,” he says, “It’s all right. Try some cake.”

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Poems for January 2012

Posted by mcdoc on January 6, 2012

David Salner

On the Iron Range, Where I Tossed My First Book of Poems

I tossed my first book of poems into a trash can
outside a mine. It was a hot day – the book
stirred up yellow jackets feasting on soda cans.

So I hurried into the locker room, which we called
a “dry,” because that’s where our coveralls
hung from a chain in the ceiling, with the legs

outstretched like the skins of large animals –
still wet when we climbed back into them.
I worked in the mine, patrolling a rotary kiln,

the largest in the world, said the company,
All night it rolled like a great whale 
in bearings the size of my house.

My partner told stories about the old days
when he drank at Tony’s instead of going home
to sleep—and then passed out in the gray mud

under the filter floor. We laughed and talked
as the machines splattered mud all over us.
Later that winter—after the hunters

had divided the deer into neat packages
and the fishermen had begun putting wood stoves
into their ice-houses, and after the snowmobilers

had begun cruising under bridges
and into forbidden areas—I skied to the top
of an old tailings dump, where all I could see

were Spruce and Tamarack rising from the stillness
of an ocean frozen under feet of snow
all the way to Lake Superior—a silent ocean

in which I could no longer hear the crushers
gyrating boulders of iron
at the edge of the sleepy town. Then Christmas:

U.S. Steel laid us off by the thousands,
and I left the Iron Range,
where I’d tossed my first book of poems.

Mary Oliver
(1935 – )

Am I Not Among The Early Risers

Am I not among the early risers
and the long-distance walkers?

Have I not stood, amazed, as I consider
the perfection of the morning star
above the peaks of the houses, and the crowns of the trees
blue in the first light?
Do I not see how the trees tremble, as though
sheets of water flowed over them
though it is only wind, that common thing,
free to everyone, and everything?

Have I not thought, for years, what it would be
worthy to do, and then gone off, barefoot and with a silver pail,
to gather blueberries,
thus coming, as I think, upon a right answer?

What will ambition do for me that the fox, appearing suddenly
at the top of the field,
her eyes sharp and confident as she stared into mine,
has not already done?

What countries, what visitations,
what pomp
would satisfy me as thoroughly as Blackwater Woods
on a sun-filled morning, or, equally, in the rain?

Here is an amazement—once I was twenty years old and in
every motion of my body there was a delicious ease,
and in every motion of the green earth there was
a hint of paradise,
and now I am sixty years old, and it is the same.

Above the modest house and the palace—the same darkness.
Above the evil man and the just, the same stars.
Above the child who will recover and the child who will
not recover, the same energies roll forward,
from one tragedy to the next and from one foolishness to the next.

I bow down.

Have I not loved as though the beloved could vanish at any moment,
or become preoccupied, or whisper a name other that mine
in the stretched curvatures of lust, or over the dinner table?
Have I ever taken good fortune for granted?

Have I not, every spring, befriended the swarm that pours forth?
Have I not summoned the honey-man to come, to hurry,
to bring with him the white and comfortable hive?

And while I waited, have I not leaned close, to see everything?
Have I not been stung as I watched their milling and gleaming,
and stung hard?

Have I not been ready always at the iron door,
not knowing to what country it opens—to death or to more life?

Have I ever said that the day was too hot or too cold
or the night too long and as black as oil anyway,
or the morning, washed blue and emptied entirely
of the second-rate, less than happiness

as I stepped down from the porch and set out along
the green paths of the world?

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Poems for December 2011

Posted by mcdoc on December 2, 2011

Steve Kowit
(1938 – )

Notice

This evening, the sturdy Levi’s
I wore every day for over a year
& which seemed to the end
in perfect condition,
suddenly tore.
How or why I don’t know,
but there it was: a big rip at the crotch.
A month ago my friend Nick
walked off a racquetball court,
showered,
got into his street clothes,
& halfway home collapsed & died.
Take heed, you who read this,
& drop to your knees now & again
like the poet Christopher Smart,
& kiss the earth & be joyful,
& make much of your time,
& be kindly to everyone,
even to those who do not deserve it.
For although you may not believe
it will happen,
you too will one day be gone,
I, whose Levi’s ripped at the crotch
for no reason,
assure you that such is the case.
Pass it on.

Walter McDonald
(1934 – )

A Brief, Familiar Story of Winter

Trees are telling the story of harvest
The wind is listening, murmuring oh
and dying. Leaves have only one month more

to listen. They glitter in the sun
flutter like friends in a parlor
fanning themselves and flushing.

The bark has heard it all before,
thick-skinned like a snake
that cannot shed. The taproots

hear in whispers, swelling
each time they hear the old, old story.
They shove into grains of sand

and take all they can give to heartwood.
Chilled zylem lifts the last fluid
upward from the tips of roots

like salmon leaping the rapids,
all branches waiting like bears,
leaves on all limbs trembling.

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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 »

 
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