Gratification only from words, not from food!
—A ground rule of treatment taught by a psychoanalyst supervisor.
But my colleague gives each child three,
and I’m covering his residential school kids
who demand rewards stored in his drawer.
They sulk and swear when I say, “Sorry,
no Jollies,” tune out when I lecture
about sugar, acid, and tooth decay—
they’ve known sweetness and want more.
My inner voice curses my colleague
for breaking the ground rule until
I remember being ten, weekly allergy shots,
three per arm, needles my pediatrician
sharpened on his stone. Sleeve rolled,
I’d offer a triceps and watch him jab,
detached from pain when steel failed
to penetrate, once, twice, the way
he let out his breath when the shaft
sunk deep, my pride for never crying.
He’d swab the blood and bandage
my arm, smiling as he opened
the lollipop drawer and I’d grab
my colors, resolved to grow up
and become a doctor like him.
Now I blink and see the patient
boy in my office, eyes steady,
fearless about what he deserves,
as certain as my supervisor’s belief
in theories I was fed. I reflect
for an instant, sigh like my pediatrician,
shoulders relaxing while I rummage the desk.
I offer him three.