To wrap up National Poetry Month, we’re sharing a poem from Rafael Campo’s collection Comfort Measures Only, forthcoming this September. Gathered from his over 20-year career as a poet-physician, the book’s 88 poems—30 of which have never been previously published in a collection—pull back the curtain in the ER, laying bare our pain and joining us all in spellbinding moments of pathos.
Hospital Writing Workshop
Arriving late, my clinic having run
past six again, I realize I don’t
have cancer, don’t have HIV, like them,
these students who are patients, who I lead
in writing exercises, reading poems.
For them, this isn’t academic, it’s
reality: I ask that they describe
an object right in front of them, to make
it come alive, and one writes about death,
her death, as if by just imagining
the softness of its skin, its panting rush
into her lap, then she might tame it; one
observes instead the love he lost, he’s there,
beside him in his gown and wheelchair,
together finally again. I take
a good, long breath; we’re quiet as newborns.
The little conference room grows warm, and there
before my eyes, I see that what I thought
unspeakable was more than this, was hope.