"And then he stepped back, straightened his hat, let me sweat my own decision."
POETRY OF THE TIMES
When I was nineteen and still had time,
I worked college breaks in my father’s
factory, and let sweet leather’s smell
soak into my skin. I became his shadow,
learned to laugh at gringo jokes
he cracked in Spanish selling
sweatbands to Havana’s hatmakers,
admired him when he roamed
the factory floor to coax machines
back to life with oil and rags and wrenches,
our conversations fought against the thump
and pound of half-ton dies cutting calf hides
into sweatbands workers tooled, embossed,
and bound into stacks of twelve
my grandfather and I boxed by the gross,
leather bands that soaked up sweat in baseball
caps when Mantle and Mays circled the bases,
soaked up sweat inside my father’s fedora
when he trekked our tree-lined
suburban street to his Broadway loft.
He kept his hard-earned sweat hidden
under his hat, and given his illness, I knew
he was sweating my post-college future.
But he never said, If you want this business
it’s yours. Never said, Go to med school.
Instead, he taught me the cost of sweat,
what it buys, how it means business.
And then he stepped back, straightened
his hat, let me sweat my own decision.
Dr Berlin has been writing a poem about his experience of being a doctor every month for the past 24 years in Psychiatric Times™. He is instructor in psychiatry, University of Massachusetts Medical School, Worcester, Massachusetts. His latest book is Freud on My Couch. ❒