Hektoen International

A Journal of Medical Humanities


John A. Vanek
St. Petersburg, Florida, USA

Poet’s statement: Poetry provides a vehicle that takes me to places that logic won’t go, a way of understanding the incomprehensible, both in life and in medicine. I now prescribe poetry PRN (“as needed”), but warn that it may hurt a little. My poems are peopled with my family, friends, and patients.

for Joel

My son’s best friend, six years
in remission,
leaves the pre-prom party, comes to me,
puts a hand on my shoulder,
sits, says I look sad.

I tell him I’m fine, Photograph of a rainbow
cloak my deceit
in a throaty laugh,
ask why he’s not
inside flirting.

Joel just shrugs, as if he has
a lifetime of time, says
he’s spreading his wings, soaring
to Florida this fall for college.
His smile warms the cold Ohio spring,

refills my deflating middle age
with the lightness of possibility.
Then he’s gone—
back to the party, worrying about
finals, graduation, prom night.

Three years later, his friends
gather in an early April drizzle, each
clinging to the string of a helium balloon.
Mine is red, my son’s is green,
Joel’s Mom’s is blue.

When the eulogy ends, we let them go,
bleeding all color from Ohio
into a polka dot sky.
I guess I’ll always see
those damn balloons

and his smile in my mind until
the sky dons a polka dot rainbow
for me.
I hug my son, afraid to let go,
afraid he’ll float away.


JOHN A. VANEK, MD is a physician and poet with works published in numerous literary journals and university press anthologies, such as Red, white and blues: Poets on the promise of America, as well as such diverse publications as the Journal of the American Medical Association and Biker Ally—The Motorcycle Magazine Geared For Women. He has read his poetry at the George Bush Presidential Library, the Akron Art Museum, Cleveland Clinic Lerner College of Medicine of Case Western Reserve University, and Eckerd College. His first full-length book of poetry, entitled Heart murmurs: Poems, was published in 2009. He has now retired from his private practice in Diagnostic Radiology.


Highlighted in Frontispiece Spring 2011 – Volume 3, Issue 2
Spring 2011  |  Sections  |  Poetry

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