Hektoen International

A Journal of Medical Humanities

Letter to Pa

Charles H. Halsted
Davis, California, USA

James A. Halsted, MD (left) and
Charles H. Halsted, MD (right), 1984

I heard our tire chains clacking on slushy
streets, then waited freezing, short legs 
dangling, watching you—warm coat 
against the cold, your bag in hand—walk  
through the opened door, return after 
half an hour with a fresh loaf of bread, the way 
you were paid in those late depression years. 

A few years later, world war raging, 
a neighbor’s kid crossed over the street 
to beat me up. His dad was killed in France, 
while you were safe behind the lines, 
taking care of wounded men. I dreamed 
each night of bombs and fires, invented
a secret rite to assure your safe return. 

Ten years had passed when you divorced
my Ma and I had you for my own. I felt my
pride and your elation when you described
your research on vitamin B12 deficiency.
I chose to follow in your career, your footsteps, 
as it’s said, with twenty more years to train
till I became a medical scientist on my own. 

When you died at seventy eight, I was forty-
seven with thirty years more in my career.
My medical science and skills became
ingrained, within my deepest self. When
my career came to its end, I found myself
adrift, yet, always mindful, still your son.



CHARLES H. HALSTED, MD, is a retired Professor Emeritus of internal medicine. His education includes BA Stanford University (1958), medical training at the University of Rochester School of Medicine (1962), Cleveland Metropolitan General Hospital, and Johns Hopkins Hospital. He has taught and practiced internal medicine and clinical nutrition at the University of California Davis since 1974.  His formal poetry education consists of five consecutive on-line courses from Stanford University’s Continuing Education program. His poetry has been or will be published in Tule Review, Poetry Now, The Gambler, Blood and Thunder, and Snapdragon.


Spring 2017  |  Sections  |  Poetry

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