THE LAST FIFTH GRADE OF EMERSON ELEMENTARY

THE LAST FIFTH GRADE OF EMERSON ELEMENTARY
April 12, 2016

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Poetry Friday: Poetry in Medicine

I'm taking a break from my month-long "In Residence" series today. I have a day off from teaching elementary school poetry workshops this Friday. Instead of writing, I'm reading poetry.

We're rounding up
at Matt Forrest Esenwine's blog today.
See you at Radio, Rhythm, & Rhyme
for more poetic posts.
One of the great poetry mentors in my life is Michael Salcman. In addition to being an accomplished poet, Michael is a neurosurgeon and art historian.

Michael has just published Poetry in Medicine: An Anthology of Poems About Doctors, Patients, Illness, and Healing. Although it's only been out for a few months, this anthology is has already become THE book on this topic.

I had a wonderful conversation with Michael about the book, poets' views of doctors, and what it's like to be a poet-physician. You'll find that interview posted at Little Patuxent Review's blog today.

Michael selected a detail from this painting,
 The Agnew Clinic by Thomas Eakins,
for the cover of Poetry in Medicine.
Shop local! Order Poetry in Medicine
from Baltimore's Ivy Bookshop.
Michael features another poet-physician (and a surprise cameo) in his poem "Dr. Williams Delivers a Baby," which is collected in Poetry in Medicine.

Dr. Williams Delivers a Baby
by Michael Salcman

Dr. Williams was making his rounds:
one dilapidated house, then another,
powdered oxygen on the aluminum siding,
brown shingles on the roofs.
In between visits, he’d sit in his car
a notebook on his lap and arrange words—
instruments on a surgical tray—
uterine sounds blunt as tire-irons,
scalpels sharper than paper.
Often a cry from within the house
would bring him running past its yard,
past a tomato plant or wheelbarrow or red hen,
things he took in as he sprang
up the porch steps, hoping the family
was already in the parlor, had put the kettle on,
had found clean towels and disinfectant
to swab the wound or welcome the crowning head.
He put down his old-fashioned doctor’s bag,
a satchel peaked like a dormer at both ends,
his initials stamped in gold, long ago faded,
and took off his wool overcoat. Tonight,
he noted the burdened book shelves,
responsible chair, the goose-necked reading lamp,
the desk loaded with papers, writing tools
and a folding pince-nez: the father
was a professor or writer of some degree,
who could afford both coal and electric.
He suspected they were Jewish, the mother
of German ancestry, the father Sephardic—
but had no reason to know. In truth
he had only a cursory familiarity with their tribe
and knew no Hebrew. But the mother’s cry?
Soon, it was going to be soon. He timed her pain
until a dark spot between her labia grew
and it was time to prep and drape her;
then he encouraged the head with a gloved hand
turned the shoulders and delivered the rest.
Dr. Williams told the father it looked like a writer,
this noisy boy, vigorous and exploring.
They would name him Allen.


Poem shared by express permission of the author.

You can find another interview about Poetry in Medicine at WYPR, Baltimore's local NPR affiliate.

To check out my "In Residence" series of lessons and poems from Northfield Elementary, visit yesterday's post.

9 comments:

Matt Forrest Esenwine said...

I'd love to see this book - and my wife, who's an NP, would probably love it, too!

LInda Baie said...

I'm glad to know about this new anthology, Laura. The poem takes us to a time we only know about, with no experience of those kind doctors moving from house to house, very welcome for their expertise. Beautiful scene here, and it does show that sure knowledge, doesn't it? Enjoy your reading today!

Donna Smith said...

Amazing but our doctor made house calls - maybe because they still did that out in the country in Maine longer than the rest of the world.
This sounds like an incredible anthology. Poetry in Medicine...not topics that I'd ever have thought of together, but I'm betting it's a really interesting read. Thanks for sharing!

Margaret Simon said...

My father was a doctor. I have memories of calls in the night and will never forget the mother who knocked at the door with a convulsing child. Even now knowing that children with high fever may convulse, the childhood memory is terror.

This poem is full of such detail that I was easily drawn in to the scene. I loved the happy ending. I was fearing a sad one.

Sally Murphy said...

What a wonderful poem from a collection that sounds fascinating. Thanks for sharing.

Mary Lee said...

How fun to see Mr. Williams at work, both in medicine and gathering images for his poetry!

Heidi Mordhorst said...

I love love love this mystery-maybe-fiction-maybe-utter-truth poem. If I have connected the Michael's dots, Dr. WCWilliams just delivered Allen Ginsberg!

Of course beautifully written, but so much more: "...a notebook on his lap and arrange words—instruments on a surgical tray—uterine sounds blunt as tire-irons,scalpels sharper than paper" and "this noisy boy, vigorous and exploring". Bravo!

Robyn Hood Black said...

Yes, Bravo, and thanks for sharing, Laura! I will check out this wonderful-sounding anthology with someone special in mind to give it to.
("responsible chair" - love!)

Tabatha said...

This is totally up my alley, Laura! Can't wait to take a look at the anthology. (Sorry it took me so long to visit -- we were gone for the long weekend.)