Sweat

Psychiatric Times, Vol 39, Issue 4,

"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. ❒