“Step 1: put your butt in a chair for 45 minutes every day and get down a shitty draft.”
POETRY OF THE TIMES
Which is exactly what I’ve started doing
after sharpening pencils for three minutes,
and I’m thinking, Annie, I know this drill
from keeping my butt in a chair
for 45-minute sessions with patients
before I shift gears and spend fifteen more
as a doctor-poet, compressing their stories
and sighs into progress note poems
I season with blood work and brain scans.
And now, Annie, at minute 16, I’m writing
about the way professional standards
make me gaze into my crystal ball to predict
suicide risk, and I’m wondering if imagining
the future makes me a sci-fi writer
whose words could be used as time machines
for patients to board and rearrange their past:
a doomed marriage derailed before wedding;
the pathology report changed from malignant
to benign; making a full stop at the warning light.
Hitting minute 33 I’m pausing to read
what I’ve written, my inner critic screaming,
Don’t sign off on a shitty draft
like this one, even though Annie’s Step 2 says:
Perfectionism blocks playfulness and creativity.
But hey, I only write for an audience of three:
the clear lens of my professional eye,
that bureaucrat who authorizes my payments,
and a malpractice attorney, years from now,
who will read my progress note poems
while she weighs her case against me.
The clock just ticked minute 41,
and Annie, just as you predict my attention
is wandering, even if I haven’t hit Step 3:
Make the reader feel something is at stake,
which I’ll have to focus on in my revision.
But I do understand your words about
The holiness of the writer’s craft,
because my other profession asked me
to swear the sacred Hippocratic oath,
To Apollo Healer and before all the gods
and goddesses… getting these words down
just as my alarm signals minute 45.
I put down my pen. “Shitty Draft
Number One.” Thanks, Annie, I had fun.
Dr Berlin has been writing a poem about his experience as a doctor every month for the past 24 years in Psychiatric TimesTM. He is instructor in psychiatry, University of Massachusetts Medical School, Worcester, Massachusetts. His latest book is Freud on My Couch. ❒