Poet's statement: With regard to poetry and healing, I think that the discipline of writing poetry demands the cultivation of a certain kind of attention to story, of attention to detail. I strive to bring this kind of attention to my clinical encounters in medicine. I believe that for most of us who become ill, the healing process begins with the realization that we have been fully listened to, and truly heard.
time stopped as we waited in the wind
and dust for the phone call that would explain
there had been a mistake, the call that never came.
Even so, she’d been rushing around
in joy these last few months as if
she would never have time for everything.
On the second day of her death
the sky remained brilliant, inexplicably blue.
Train whistles screamed out the hours
as the taxi drivers continued to hurry
their passengers to their urgent
and usual destinations. I dreamed
of a sidewalk stained dark, a stain
I tried again and again to erase.
On the third day of her death
another shipment of tears arrives
unbidden, but welcome. I imagine
an elegant candle, after a magnificent meal
stubbed down to a pool of hot wax
and a wick, a candle that flares briefly
and fiercely before going out.
This poem first appeared in the April 21, 2004 issue of JAMA
DR. TED MCMAHON is a Seattle pediatrician and poet. A graduate of Williams College and Duke University School of Medicine, he currently practices half-time in the Seattle neighborhood of Ballard and devotes the other half to writing and leading river journeys (www.innerjourney.info).