Hektoen International

A Journal of Medical Humanities

Prayer for my Village – When a Friend Asks Me What It’s Like to See Someone Die

Jeanne Bryner
Warren, Ohio, United States


Poet’s statement: Both of these poems were written while I was at Vermont Studio Center on an international fellowship. Artists from all disciplines, states, and nations ate together, worked in their studios, presented slides, and gave readings of works-in-progress. It was precious. And I thought, why must we have war? Why can’t we figure out a better path? After fourteen years in the emergency room, I ached. So many young people we’d lost and continue to lose. They want jobs, hope, and a better life. Always, it is the hungry man who must raise his sword. It doesn’t matter what he is hungry for. For the many I cared for and lost, I witness.


Prayer for my village

That we may all live to see
where God drives His hot pink go cart,
some piece of land facing both hills,
an ocean sunset, banana muffins cooling
on a sill. A cove where we are busy in shifts
building a platform, digging deep
and drinking from one gourd.
A plaza where our children sing in a classroom
and papers are not graded by degrees.
A schoolhouse where we all pass.
That we may dance in those streets
even for one just day,
the sweet pulp of happiness
bubbling up, swirling
so high, we must wear galoshes.


When a friend asks me what it’s like to see someone die

for Brian

Maybe because I’m a nurse
and his mother weakens as her cancer spreads
he wants to know the path of beautiful stars.
He needs to understand trajectory, but the loft
I paint stretches between the nave and choir,
a brown altar boy with dreds
barely fourteen, shot with a handgun near his thigh.
In the chapel of crash carts, sirens and bells,
we lift, roll, scrape red and sew
work on him like a canvas, palm his chest like clay, like dough.
This Bob-Marley boy fallen asleep in his father’s chair.
This Nigerian prince quiet from poison’s dart.
This child who chases a balloon through night’s park

his eyes hungry for wonder.



JEANNE BRYNER, RN, BA, CEN was born in Appalachia and grew up in Newton Falls, Ohio. A registered nurse, she is a graduate of Trumbull Memorial’s School of Nursing and Kent State University’s Honors College. She has received writing fellowships from Bucknell University, the Ohio Arts Council (’97, 07), and Vermont Studio Center. Her poetry has been adapted for the stage and performed in Ohio, West Virginia, New York, Kentucky, and Edinburgh, Scotland. She has a new play, Foxglove Canyon, and her books in print are Breathless, Blind Horse: Poems, Eclipse: Stories, No Matter How Many Windows, and Tenderly Lift Me: Nurses Honored, Celebrated and Remembered. She lives with her husband and daughter near a dairy farm in Newton Falls, Ohio.


Highlighted in Frontispiece Winter 2011 – Volume 3, Issue 1
Winter 2011  |  Sections  |  Poetry

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