"She was clear-eyed and dying when I knew her, soft breaths feathering from her chest like distant smoke..."
Any Good Poem
Richard Berlin, MD, shares his poem, “What a Dying Woman Saw.” This poem is featured in the July 2023 issue of Psychiatric Times.
What a Dying Woman Saw
She was clear-eyed and dying
when I knew her, soft breaths feathering
from her chest like distant smoke,
face bleached white as burnt out sky.
Propped in a chair, oxygen prongs pulled
to her neck, she commanded like a queen
for morphine, lobster, a second phone,
her mind still ruling an 80 pound body.
She allowed me to sit at the foot
of her bed like a commoner, let me ask
the details of lineage and disease,
revealed the smothering-fear in her dream.
And on the last morning, when I’d suctioned
dark secretions, she wheezed,
You’re a poet, aren’t you?
That was before I thought to write
more than a patient’s history in a chart,
before I knew what lets us breathe easier,
before their stories engraved me like stone.
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.