Stanley Robbins' Bookshelf

December 1, 2005

Stanley Robbins' Bookshelf

--for Stanley L. Robbins, M.D., 1915-2003

The words of a dead man

Are modified in theguts of the living.

--W.H. Auden

---

If I were still a medical student

I'd tell Auden that Robbins' textbook taught me

our guts are folds of villilined with

columnar epithelium.

I'd be seated

on a royal blue sofa with a broken spring,

light bleeding in just past sunset,

the room filled with smells of mahogany

and dust, Robbins' Textbook of Pathology

like a concrete block on my lap, his descriptions

of lesions packed into paragraphs like poems.

Back then I never pictured Stanley Robbins

as a writer, struggling to place the best

words in the best order, and I didn't know

his bookshelves were lined with Ginsberg,

Whitman, histology, and Plath.

As a student all I felt was pressure

to learn the terms for ten thousand diseases

in five short months, their names a sacred text

that held the poetry of medicine

I would recite some day to my patients,

like a love poem I knew by heart.