Category Archives: Poetry


you are afraid, the night said
you are too small on this earth
you are dust beneath the stars

but no
not so, I said

I have heard the ocean sing
you are alive, it said

I have heard the wind breathe
you are strong, it said

I have heard the leaves laugh
you are growing, they said

you are like us
here on this earth

I am not afraid, I told the shadows
and sang into the darkness
I may be small
but I am an ember
a spark
a firefly
and I will light
up this night

– Stethoscopist


Pulse arcing against my fingers
words and silence cast aside
stars and shadows burst within me
I am here
I am alive

This is my reality
the endless spinning of my dreams
echoes, shadows, valleys, meadows
look around
and hear me sing

With this music in my mind
I have the wings to take me high
aloft, alone above the clouds
I soar among the stars and sky

– Stethoscopist | drafted 5.20.15

Looking back


It’ve been two years since I wrote the poem below.  I remember being in my immunology class during the second quarter of medical school, listening as our instructor talked about anaphylaxis.  The emotions it evoked later found their way into written words.  I’ve shared this poem a few times in different ways–first in my creative writing class, later in our medical student journal–but I haven’t revisited it in at least a year.

A lot has changed in the course of that time, even if I didn’t see it happening.  Perhaps I haven’t paused and looked back often enough, to see how far I’ve come since the beginning of my journey into medicine.  I’m almost done with my third year now, and sometimes I forget just how much I’ve learned since I began.  I think it is that way for many of us, actually.  We live with ourselves 24/7, and it makes it difficult to see ourselves grow because it happens so gradually.  But grow we do.

This poem looks back to a time when I was seven years old, and my brother (who was a toddler at the time) went into anaphylactic shock after tasting peanut butter.

He just turned 19 years old this January, and I turned 26.

To this day, I’m thankful for the medicine that saved him.


Dim lecture hall and early morning and I am sitting in the seat I always take, watching the words flashing against the wall. Pruritus. Urticaria. Angioedema. 

Immunoglobulins, the E isotype, not the A isotype…so many letters to keep straight. 

I am a child again, tracing out the alphabet, learning to spell like when you were born and I had to remember to write your name with an “a” two letters from the end, not an “e.” A child again learning my ABCs: airway, breathing, cardiac. Treatment includes epinephrine. 

And suddenly, we are children again. 

Flashes of images in my mind, a moment remembered, transected from the whole. 

The stroller with its small wheels, and you in it, and Mom bending over to give you a bite of our sandwich because you are hungry on that sunny walk in the park, and we are carefree. 

So ordinary, the child and the peanut butter and jelly sandwich and the young family paused in time on the sidewalk. 

And then the next image, more sound than sight: your sneeze, and the worry in Mom’s voice. 

And then you buckled in the car seat and Grandpa getting into the car beside you and Mom rushing because you have to go to the emergency room. An impression of puffiness, of you and your elfin ears and fine brown hair and a body suddenly too full of that which should have been life. 

An empty driveway, lonesome gray against the sky. 

Me waiting. 

You came back—you came back to us before your lungs could squeeze out the last thin tendrils of your breath and the surging current of medicine drew your tiny boat back from a shore we could not reach. 

And I am the medical student in the lecture hall caring about the mechanism of epinephrine, and I am the sister caring about nothing other than that you came back.


I am a forest under fire
I am blackened trunks and ash and smoke
and the bones of small things that should’ve been

but I am also fireweed and
bristlecone pine seedlings and
everything that was impossible before

I am stars glimpsed through broken branches
I am moonlight slipping over the gray floor
I am the things that are

I am birdsong defiant against the ash
and new life pushing from the shattered ground
I am the roots that remain

I still am

– The Stethoscopist

Ocean Soul

Where am I in this slipping tide
when will I believe the words
they come and go and ebb and flow
upon the far shore of my soul

The quiet place of wet and salt
I walk alone by the setting sun
with sand like stars upon my toes
and my beating heart undone

So many nights I pace this shore
as moonlight spreads across the sea
listening for something far
beyond the things that shadow me

My heart is clasped within this cage
of woven flesh and ribs and vein
still it feels the ocean storm
that rides the billowed silver waves

I’m waiting here beyond the cliffs
in the places lost to man
tracing words upon the shore
dreams spelled out upon the sand

With me is this lamp of old
lit before my wet lungs flung
their voice into the sea-born wind
when I first sang the ocean song

I hold my lamp against the storm
against the clouds and driving rain
waiting for the ship to come
I will wait and wait again

Here upon the furthest lees
here beside the wind-swept tide
ocean soul and ocean eyes
I wait and hold the sea inside

– The Stethoscopist


Remind me why I chose this way
Where I am going,
The meaning of knowing

Remind me who I really am
All that defines me,
The pen that outlines me

Remind me what colors fill this life
The red of blood,
The white of light

Remind me why I walk this path
A serpent bound
Upon the staff

– The Stethoscopist


Embrace the moment

Catch the light

Count the stars among the night

Search for spring within all dormant

Seedlings whisper

Hope, ignite


See infinity

Another’s eyes

Seek the truth beyond the guise

Listen for the fledgling melody

Awaken heartbeat

Soul, arise


When I interact with patients, I find that I often receive intangible gifts, such as little shifts in perspective.  I wrote the following haiku after meeting a patient earlier this quarter who stayed in my mind long past our time together that day.

You could have been me

I could have been you, so close

in age, the same dreams

I sometimes realize that I spend much of my days viewing my life through a metaphorical microscope.  Focus is essential, but I think that too much of it can strain the eyes of my heart , and that’s exactly when I need to step back and gaze into the distance.

May we be daily granted the gift of viewing life through a wide-angle lens.

First Week

I saw his hands for the first time on Thursday.  

Before then, they had been protectively gloved in light cloth mitts, as if they held a story I could not yet hear.  Since Thursday was only our second day of anatomy, I had not expected to glimpse our body’s hands for a while yet, but we needed to abduct the arms in order to dissect along the midaxillary line that afternoon.   Since I was the closest to the hand on my side of the dissecting table, I reached over and rolled the cloth away from the skin.

The hand was larger than mine, bluish.  Gently reaching in, I grasped it, feeling its cold, firm touch against my own.  There was something almost waxen about it, as if it had been carved from a fusion of marble and earth.

For a brief moment, I locked my hand with his, trying in my own way to connect with this life I would never meet.  I will know no details of this man’s story, but I wondered whether a child once held his hand in the way I did now.  Did this person have children who looked up to him in the same way I look up to my dad?

Who were you?

I like performing dissections—in undergrad, I enjoyed my zoology course, and I continue to be fascinated by the intricacy of surgery.  Anatomy is no exception; it is so amazing to peek into the human body, and although the thought of learning so many nerve and muscle names can seem rather daunting, I am up for the challenge.  At the same time, part of me feels vaguely disconcerted by the fact that although I will know the details of this person’s inner being more thoroughly than any other, including my own, I will never know this life.

That is why I am so glad that our class took a moment of silence before our first dissection lab on Tuesday.  The thrill of exploration merges with the gravity of the gift I have been given, like treble notes and bass notes coming together into a musical score.

A musical score which, at the moment, seems to be composed mostly of 32nd  notes.

We are in mini-quarter right now, which is a five-week period of intense coursework designed to ensure that everyone begins medical school on the same page.  In addition to anatomy (which will continue for two full quarters), my classmates and I are taking a month of molecular biology and histology.  I love my classes, although at times this week I’ve felt like I’m going down a freeway at 65 mph while trying to glimpse the details of the edge of the road (as a passenger, I might add, since I prefer to arrive at my destinations in one piece).

Thankfully, even when the edge of the freeway is a blur, the horizon remains clearly in view.  Through the patient experiences integrated with our coursework, I have glimpsed how the details of molecular biology fit within the context of health and disease and have witnessed the very real and human side of all we are learning.  The patients who have given deeply of their time, energy, love, and lives to speak with us are the words to the musical score I am learning, this music of medicine.

To them I dedicate this haiku:

You shared your story
With me and in that moment
Your life helped shape mine

To all those supporting me on my journey to physicianhood—those both present and past—thank you.