"Chemistry Lesson"

"I was a Jewish boy from the Jersey burbs raised on corned beef and Milano cookies. She was a Mennonite farmgirl whose father shot deer for dinner."

Any Good Poem

Richard Berlin, MD, shares his poem "Chemistry Lesson," which appears in the November issue of Psychiatric Times™.

Chemistry Lesson

I was a Jewish boy from the Jersey burbs

raised on corned beef and Milano cookies.

She was a Mennonite farmgirl

whose father shot deer for dinner.

And we were med students who’d fallen

in love on our first date, pressed together

three months later in her galley kitchen,

butter and garlic sizzling in a black

cast iron pan, steam rising from a pot

of boiling water, torn Romaine waiting

to be dressed in a burled wooden bowl,

our trance broken only by her timer’s

reminder to cook linguini and toss

a Caesar salad. But I’d forgotten

to stop for mayo!


Back then I believed

Hellmann’s “Real” Mayonnaise

was an element on the Periodic Table

with an atomic weight nestled

between Manganese and Molybdenum,

a primordial substance the Hellmanns

pumped from deep wells into millions

of blue-lidded bottles they shipped

across America. But before I made

a hero’s gallant sprint to the market

she forgave me with a smile, foraged

eggs from the fridge, cracked them,

separated the yolks, squeezed lemon

juice, sprinkled salt, and whisked in

oil until atoms fused for the miracle

of mayonnaise, her steady green eyes

and naked display of farmgirl skill

the chemistry that bonded us for life.


Dr Berlin has been writing a poem about his experience of being a doctor every month for the past 24 years in Psychiatric Times™ the “Poetry of the Times” column. He is instructor in psychiatry, University of Massachusetts Medical School, Worcester, Massachusetts. His latest book is Freud on My Couch.