The Poetic Body

Psychiatric TimesVol 40, Issue 8

The body keeps the score...

body color

Benjavisa Ruangvaree/AdobeStock

I have always loved using poetry as a means of creative and emotional expression.

The poem “Heartfelt” is inspired by an experience in the gross anatomy lab during my first year of medical school. While learning about the intricacies of the human body, I thought about how our bodies are not only physical but also social, spiritual, and emotional. This poem is meant to remind us that our bodies perform vital functions not only to keep us alive but to also add substance to our lives. Although we can learn about human anatomy and physiology in a classroom, what really makes us uniquely human are our lived experiences—the relationships we forge, the conversations we have, and the individuals we impact.

“The Body Keeps Score” is inspired by a book called with a similar title, written by psychiatrist Bessel Van der Kolk, MD. Similar to the book, my poem explores the relationship between our physical and mental health. Past trauma—no matter how temporally distant—can still color our current experiences and shape our minds.

The Body Keeps Score

Imagination is an integral part of the human experience

It fills in the blanks, reads between the lines

It adds color to black & white

A Rorschach blot test was given to veterans suffering from PTSD

Black ink on blank pages transformed into blood-stained uniforms

Obsidian became shrapnel and ivory, the hollow eyes of a wounded friend

To some, each blot triggered a traumatic memory

To some, there was nothing at all

The mind dabbles in forever and dips its feet in infinity

It tallies our wins and losses

Paints our experiences with passed pigments

Imagination wades in the ocean of possibility

It makes sense of nonsense

Polishes the obscure and adds color to black & white

It is an integral part of the human experience

In all these ways and more

The body keeps score


I once held a heart in my hand

Its walls were thick

Evidence of a lifetime’s work

Its chambers lined with wrinkled tissue

I pulled on the strings of this heart

I pulled them taut and played its chords

Out sprung a melody

Of rhythmic sound and dynamic tempo

A verse, chorus, and bridge

Lyrics that coursed through veins and met someone’s touch

Beats that resonated through its hollow cage and met one’s ear

I once held a heart in my hand

Like Beethoven’s own arrhythmia, it inspired a heartfelt song

And imbued beauty into the mundane

Ms Isibor is a third-year student at the University of Louisville School of Medicine in Kentucky.

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