Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Cadaver Poem


In medical school I wrote a poem in honor of my cadaver, whom our anatomy professor introduced to us as our "first patient." I found the poem in a box in the basement during last week's excavations. It's strange to have this artifact now, after so much has happened - a window into what I was thinking at the very beginning of this journey in medicine.

I wrote it in voices, but that wasn't my idea; I was inspired by Paul Fleischman's book Joyful Noise: Poems for Two Voices, which won the Newbery Medal in 1989.

The voices in the poem alternate for the most part but occasionally speak simultaneously, indicated by lines occurring on the same line or in the center. It's hard to read, and it's not great poetry, but the thoughts are genuine. It had no title when I first wrote it. (P.S. The photo above is indeed of the anatomy lab at my alma mater, New York Medical College...but it was just getting built when I was a student there! I do envy the lucky folks that got to take their anatomy course in that beautiful lab instead of the old one...)


Learning Anatomy

(The Student)............................................(The Body)

Between you and me
my fears and my hopes

Between you and me
my heart in your hands

I am young
I am old

I am living

I have lived

The distance is wide

Between you and me.

How does one person
come to understand
another?

You have touched every scar,
traced the stories they tell
on my body, but my spirit
you have not read

A jumble of words.........................................I have become
a specimen, a chore....................................a jumble of words
an interesting case........................................a body, a case

A jumble of words
A mumbling of rituals

pacemaker.......................................................heart failure
mastectomy...................................................hysterectomy
hysterectomy.....................................................metastasis
metastasis......................................................nephrectomy
nephrectomy.....................................................pacemaker
heart failure.....................................................mastectomy

My hands have trembled
holding the silence of your heart

These hands

They have wiped
the tears I have wept

Want to heal so many hurts

Come together in prayer

These hands

They have clasped a dear one close

Been a part of good laughter

Been a part of much hurt
yet made wonderful things

Like music, and bread

They have cleansed and rebuilt

Made the ordinary extraordinary

I have nourished and created

I have suffered

I have hoped

How little we understand

How little you have probed

How wide is the distance
between you and me?

Only as wide
as your gentleness

I have never been as open as you

This is the most intimate time of my life
My death

To whom can I tell my stories?.......To whom will you tell my stories?

Your gaze is sharp

Sharper than a surgeon's blade
my imaginings about your life

Have you ever nursed a child?

Have you ever loved another?

Have you known loneliness and joy?

Have I really looked inside?.......Have you really looked inside me?

When you dance in a roomful of happy friends

Watch the first snow fall

Hold an infant

Kiss an elder

Think of me.

Has anyone given you such a gift?

Have I ever given a gift such as this?

I will not forget................................................Do not forget

This intimacy

This fractured life
full of possibility

You are so full of wonder

I wonder sometimes

Sometimes you laugh
when you'd rather weep
the folly of youth

I long to be healed

We are "wounded surgeons," all;
with bleeding hands we ply our arts
and try to tie the frazzled ends

Of mysteries and fragile lives.

We huddle close

You stretch far across
and now
your gaze is sharper
you see

Despite my wounds

Despite my many wounds
and the worlds I have lost

Despite all we have taken
away from you
we are yet not so powerful,
not so wise

I am still a woman
I am still one to be reckoned with

We think we have power

You think you know me

But you know the truth

We
are more helpless
and vulnerable
than you

Despite all we have taken

You could not take my soul

You have given so much
You have crossed the valley
of a shadow we don't know

But I fear no evil
for it is you there beside me
Though the distance is wide

Between you and me
a heaven, an eternity

You will stay with me always

I will remember .....................................You will remember
to speak softly
to touch gently
to walk in kindness

Never forget

You are precious, beyond price

Comfort me, then
for my dreams lie with you
my heart in your hands

My self in your hands
between you and me

The distance is wide

But we have held hands across it.

c. 1999

16 comments:

Jo said...

Wow.
An amazing poem - thank you so much for sharing.

rlbates said...

Very nice, T. And we don't forget.

Jared At The Doctor Job said...

That was really something. Thank you!

Michael Leddy said...

A really remarkable premise for a poem.

T. said...

Thank you all for taking the time to read it.


Michael - perhaps, but oh-so-pedestrian in its execution; too many rhythmic hiccups; to many moments tinged with sentimentality; should be about a third as long...

Hard to have been a former English major, an admirer of the REAL folks, and be faced with my own paltry efforts from a dreamier youth...

Anonymous said...

Thank you for sharing....

Our cadaver funeral is this coming Friday and this was inspirational to read...thank you

Anonymous said...

seriously, that is one of the best poems i've ever read. you're a really talented writer. : )

T. said...

Thank you for your kind words!

creative educator said...

Extremely intense. I am tremendously moved by your respect for life, death and science and your ability to find the art in all three. Your respect for each is admirable.

Katie said...

I really enjoyed your poem. My medical school is having our Donor Memorial Service on Monday and wanted to see if we could your poem or the idea of the poem at the event. My e-mail is davenpk@evms,edu. Let me know and thanks!

Anonymous said...

I really enjoyed your poem. My school is having our cadaver memorial in two weeks, and I wanted to know if I could have two students read it. I'd like to give you credit as well in the program if you agree to it. Please email me at DLeech3@gmail.com. Thank-you for sharing this!

Anonymous said...

Amazing poem! I am fascinated by poems written from the perspective of the cadaver-- I have devoted my life's work to helping medical student's find their voice. I would like to include this in my dissertation as an example. Please check your inbox for a form allowing me to reprint your poem in my dissertation.

Thanks,
S. Sethi, MMH
Department of Medical Humanities
Drew University
ssethi@drew.edu

Anonymous said...

Hi. Like so many others, I was very moved by your poem. I am a first year medical student and would like to read your poem (with a partner) at our remembrance ceremony on Thursday. Please e-mail me at kzimmerman39@gmail.com. Thank you.

Kristina

Anonymous said...

Thank you so much for sharing your poem. I am a first year medical student and my friends and I (7 of us) would like to read your poem in honor of our cadaver during our donor memorial ceremony. I have emailed you.

Thanks,
Jia Loon

Jenica Thangathurai said...

This is such a touching poem. It puts into words my feelings better than I could ever do... I also would like to read this at my cadaver ceremony next week ( I am an MS1 at USC).

Please email me at jthangat@usc.edu if this is possible.


Thanks for sharing your beautiful writing!

Jenica

Anonymous said...

Thank you so much for sharing this poem! It was so beautifully written. Like many others, my friend and I would like to recite your poem at our cadaver ceremony in a few weeks and we would love your blessing to share it with our fellow students, faculty, and staff. Please let me know via e-mail at jaclyn8910@Hotmail.com

Thank you again!
Jaclyn