Message in a Bottle

October 1, 2004

Whoever you are, I am writing to make contact, to get my message to someone who will understand. It is Friday, 7 p.m. and I've just finished my fifth phone call to a managed care automaton in 800-Land, my patient on a gurney in the ER with an IV in his arm, and they've finally agreed to pay for one hospital day.

The poem, being a manifestation of language and thus essentially a dialogue, can be a message in a bottle, sent out in the--not always greatly hopeful--belief that somewhere and sometime it could wash up on land, on heartland perhaps.

--Paul Celan

Whoever you are, I am writing to make contact,
to get my message to someone who will understand.
It is Friday, 7 p.m. and I've just finished my fifth
phone call to a managed care automaton in 800-Land,
my patient on a gurney in the ER with an IV in his arm,
and they've finally agreed to pay for one hospital day.
Oh what a tedious victory! I refuse to condense
the world into fifteen minute med-checks
or believe the myths of the medical model!
Read the titles on your bookshelf. They are the same
as mine. And tell me you believe the diagnosis
"Disruptive Behavior Disorder, Not Otherwise Specified"
is less imaginary than this poem, or the conceit
I am shipwrecked on a tropical island.
Please, I don't want to offend you, especially tonight
when my patient almost died and I feel helpless and alone.
I've made compromises, too. At times like this, I wish
I was Walt Whitman proclaiming my barbaric yawp
over the rooftops of the world. Yet I know I'm just a doctor
like you, whose tools are pills and listening and a certain
kind of love, and that you understand the loneliness of our work.
Walt would call you "camerado" but I will call you "colleague,"
and if you were here, I'd say, Let's meet tonight at the red oak
on the Tanglewood lawn. Joshua Bell will be playing Beethoven,
and we can drink cold Spanish wine with curried scallops.
And when the concert ends and the crowd thins out, the stage
manager will turn down the lights, and we will look up
at the Milky Way, glowing like the edge of an infinite book,
the Big Dipper in the north pouring its sweet, distant light on all of us.