Listening to Terry Gross

Psychiatric TimesVol 38, Issue 11

"Before I knew my own voice, I listened to yours while we learned our trades..."

fountain-pen_Mizar21984/Adobe Stock

fountain-pen_Mizar21984/Adobe Stock



Dear Terry

Back in the 70s, before I knew

my own voice, I listened to yours

while we learned our trades—

you with comics and writers and rock stars,

me with locked-ward psych patients.

I can still hear us pepper questions,

quick to interrupt, not yet knowing

how silence can spark our work.

And we both got bruised—

Gene Simmons taunting you

like a teenager inflaming his mom,

my patients slamming doors

when I pressed them to tell me,

“How does that make you feel?”


The Way We Work

I almost fell out of my Stressless chair

when I learned your guests sit

in distant studios, your connection

like a blind musician tuned into rhythm

and tone, me in soundproofed,

sweat-soaked exam rooms, high-beam

eye contact, mirrored bodies,

my head nodding yes, my hand

circling, Tell me more,

you and I coaxing people

to reveal themselves with words.



Your two laughs are specialized tools—

the first, deep, spontaneous, seductive,

impossible to fake, a laugh that says,

I love you! You have my attention!

I am your biggest fan! But the second

is a sigh embedded in a little cough,

the flash of a pearl handled dagger

that warns your next question will hurt.

Where I work, laughter risks shaming

or hints seduction, which makes me

serious, reserved, knowing psychotherapy

positions me as close as people can be

without having sex.



Speaking of sex, I love to hear you work

when your guest is a psychoanalyst,

our godparents in the interview family,

a reflective tribe with an allergy

to giving direct answers, like the analyst

promoting her book about sex in the elderly,

how you tiptoed around her, each word,

every question chosen with the care of a sapper

cutting wires on an unexploded bomb.

But other guests aren’t quite so guarded,

and I shift to the edge of my seat

when I hear you make your graceful turn

into questions about parents and childhood,

your arc like a pilot’s approach

to a runway tucked in a mountain valley,

Springsteen’s Oh Terry! awe when

you connected his developmental dots.


My All-Time Favorite Interview

John le Carré, bored by his book promotion tour,

standoffish as a kid in the vice principal’s

office, British monotone, one-word answers,

nothing revealed until you focus on

his growing up with a con man father,

le Carré grudging a few details, you laughing

with appreciation, le Carré spilling more,

a spy coming in from the cold, opening up

as if he had been waiting all his life

to have this conversation with you,

two mates knocking down pints at the pub.


Saying Goodbye

Now that I’ve listened to you longer

than Prozac or Freud, I’ve learned

saying goodbye can be hard, my endings

with patients signaled by a glance

at the clock, a summary of our session,

the next appointment time,

yours closing when you roll the credits

with a list of names my ears savor

like a man with Tourette’s who tics

on sounds: Ann Marie Baldonado

Molly Seavy-Nesper, Mooj Zadie.

But most of all I wait to hear your

Thank You, Goodbye Voice

reveal exactly how much you love

your guest, which reminds me

how much I love my patients,

the way strangers enter our lives

and revive us with a breath of fresh air.

Dr Berlin has been writing a poem about his experience of being a doctor every month for the past 23 years in Psychiatric TimesTM in a column called “Poetry of the Times.” He is instructor in psychiatry, University of Massachusetts Medical School, Worcester, Massachusetts.

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