Medical Poems


The Joy of Medicine


It’s about the man

who pilgrimages to Talladega every October

because you stented his widow maker

and the couple

celebrating their 60th

who asked everybody to stand up and clap

when you walked in to the VFW hall

and the time you were in the shower

and you thought about

what the wordy lady told you in the office

the day before

and you ordered the blood test

and prescribed the right pill

and all was well

and it would not have been


and looking back now

believe it or not

answering the stat page

at the Little League game

in the bottom of the 5th

right before

Maggie hit the ball to right field

and slid into third with a triple

and leaving the warm bed

with the candles burning

to speed to the ED

to sew up the drunk’s aorta

and when you got home

she was sleeping


but most of all

it is about the long haul trucker

who runs to Reno

twice a week

who doesn’t know

he should be dead


but you do.


Annals of Internal Medicine, 160:880, 2014 (winner, 2014 poem of the year)

One of Us

One of us asks,

“Is there family?”

“He has two children,

A son in Omaha

And a daughter in Idaho”.


One of us has her knees on his bed,

Both arms locked at her elbows,

Caving in his breastbone an inch,



One hundred times a minute.


One of us squeezes a blue balloon

That pushes oxygen

Through the tube one of us

Shoved down his throat

Twenty minutes ago

When he first gasped for breath.


One of us feeds him,

Not meat and potatoes

As he must have been accustomed to,

But calcium and epinephrine.


We talk as if we were at a family reunion,

But not about Uncle Jack and Aunt Martha’s

Two sets of triplets,

But about blood gasses and pH

And ventricular fibrillation.


One of us pushes the green button on the little machine

And waits

And then pushes the red button.

His hands rise four inches off the bed

And then fall back.


One of us says it is time and we



One of us asks what time it is

And writes it down

And says it is official.


One of us washes him off

Like a newborn baby.


Canadian Medical Association Journal 182: E607, 2010.


Dist 37 for Squarespace.jpg

District 37


The pump outside. Hard for little hands

to move the handle fast enough to bring the water up,

takes muscled eighth-grade boys to do the job.


The shed out back full of coal,

hauled in by Arthur once a month.

Inside the cast iron stove. Overshoes

on every side when it had snowed.


Desks filled with spelling lists

and Frito bags. The flag up front,

pledged to every day. The blackboard

in the back, A to Z

calligraphed across the top.


On the side, three shelves

each holding thirty books.

The Adventures of Curleytops,

The Life of Jesse James.

And one with cartoons

showing atria and ventricles,

the valves between.


He wonders where he'd be

without that book. Or where he’d be

if there'd been one by Yeats or Hemingway.


In Cornfields, Cottonwoods, Seagulls and Sermons: Growing Up in Nebraska; 2017