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I know it’s your job, to monitor the heart rate as it rises, the blood pressure as it falls. I know the gray-haired woman in the bed is another set of numbers with a name you’ll forget. She’s my mother. She grows tomatoes on her porch and has a song to sing for every occasion. She loves side stroke and chocolate and Japanese art. She makes the best poached eggs, and she knows exactly how to scratch my head to lull me to sleep. I know it’s your job to find the clot. To bathe the wound. To ease the pain. Thank you. Thank you for your hands as they slip the needle into her arms, the arms that gather me when frightened or cold. Thank you for your feet as they run down the halls to examine her heart, her heart that holds so many. Thank you for your art as you puzzle the why of her body, her body that knows itself as a vessel for love and prayer. She is praying for you, even now, as I do, and though you are just doing your job, thank you.

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Doctors, said the professor

to the room of fresh pre-meds,

know this:

Eighty percent of the people

you treat will get better

even if you do nothing.

Ten percent will heal because

of what you do. And ten percent

will get worse because of what you do.

Let’s begin.

Tonight, as my daughter’s skin

blooms increasingly red—

a rash staining her trunk,

her face, her limbs—I consider

what the professor said.

She is long past the age

where I can heal things

with a kiss. Still, I kiss her,

knowing this to be the best medicine

eighty percent of the time.

I give her a dose of jokes,

and prescribe another chapter

of The Silver Chair. We read

as the red grows angrier.

She laughs when I tell her

at least she didn’t break her arm

or lose all of her hair.

I hate how helpless I feel.

Though I did not enter

the rooms of dissection

nor memorize tomes

of bones and diseases and cures,

I still have the longing

to heal, to remove the pain, to nurse.

If she is afraid, she does not show it.

I disguise my fear. I give her

another kiss. It won’t, at least,

make anything worse.

*with thanks to Dr. John Belka for the story that opens this poem.

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I went in
expecting a miracle.

I wanted to be healed
when I walked out the door.

Instead, the doctor
told me there was nothing

he could do. Told me
the problem. Told me

the solution. Long and
painful. And then

he said he could help me.
I left feeling hopeless.

Frustrated. Spent. And still
in so much pain.

I went in expecting a miracle.
I think that’s what

he gave you,
my friend later said.

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