Stanley Robbins' Bookshelf
--for Stanley L. Robbins, M.D., 1915-2003
The words of a dead man
Are modified in theguts of the living.
If I were still a medical student
I'd tell Auden that Robbins' textbook taught me
our guts are folds of villilined with
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.