Psychiatric TimesVol 40, Issue 4

" father’s spade saving last year’s mud, a long-tined rake, the swan-neck hoe..."

garden tools

Alexander Raths/AdobeStock


-for Barry Sternlieb

They hang from the rack:

my father’s spade saving last year’s mud,

a long-tined rake, the swan-neck hoe.

Each spring, when earth warms and begs

me to open its dark skin, I carry them

past flowering apples and pears to the quiet

square of garden, to excite what lies buried

beneath the surface. The spade slices deep,

turns clay and compost in a wet, fertile dough

combed smooth by the rake’s thin hand.

The graceful hoe chops dandelions

that intrude like obsessions

and waits patiently to scrape purslane

when it grows fast as jealousy in July.

I love their simple handles, the smooth taper

of oiled oak and ash, their honest grains

spiraling like a patient’s thoughts.

My psychiatrist tools are simple too:

a room with a closed door, a few chairs, pills,

and packets of words I cultivate like, that hurts or yes, I see,

words that smooth a surface or dig up something dormant

like last year’s seeds stirred from below

whispering green shoots toward the first hope of warmth.

Dr Berlin has been writing a poem about his experience of being a doctor every month for the past 25 years in Psychiatric Times in a column called “Poetry of the Times.” He is instructor in psychiatry, University of Massachusetts Medical School, Worcester, Massachusetts. His latest book is Freud on My Couch.

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