Until recently, many in the Western world regarded medicine as a wholly scientific pursuit, separate from and even antithetical to spiritual and artistic concerns. Yet every physician who acknowledges uncertainty as a recurring factor in medical practice understands the fallibility of science and technology. Blood and Bone: Poems by Physicians explores the profound connections between medicine and poetry through the eyes of contemporary physician-poets. These one hundred poems record instances of pain and recovery, joy and grief, humor and irony within the restricted society of caregivers and their patients.

The editors of this anthology have divided the poems into four sections to reflect the depth and diversity of the physician experience. Poems in the first and largest group show doctors in the clinical setting, dealing directly with their patients and the diseases that plague them. The subsequent sections bring together poems that explore the doctors' private worlds and family relationships and the passing on of knowledge through the teacher-student relationship. Finally, these physicians turn their attention outward toward larger social and cultural concerns.

Throughout, it is evident that medicine and poetry draw from the same deep well. At the heart of the medical encounter is the poetic act of witnessing, simply standing in the presence of suffering—an experience that cannot be fully expressed in scientific terms. Doctors and patients alike experience meaning in suffering and illness. In medicine and in poetry they find a network of healing symbols.

“I admire this brave and accessible anthology. The writing of these physician-poets has content to burn. The authors have life-and-death work to do. Hence, the drama is immediate. The effects are visceral. There are stories and facts in this collection that will knock you off your pins. Other poems sing in the boneyard. It is a poetry by and for grown-ups. Worthy of the classroom, but worthy too of a private chair by a window. Blood and Bone has a strength that can't be faked.”—Marvin Bell
“In Blood and Bone is found the work of 32 poets with jobs that range from anesthesia to pathology, psychiatry to rheumatology. It is good news indeed that so many of these bitalents have been collected under one cover, for each has paid attention to the sound and sense of modern verse, and there are some sparkling discoveries here. Well-known doctor-poets such as Danny Abse and John Stone are represented by some of their finest short lyrics…Blood and Bone deserves a wide audience indeed, and I cannot think of a more useful volume to slip between the Merck Manual and Peabody's Doctor and Patient on the bookshelf of every medical student in the country.”—Gerald Weissmann, M.D., in the Journal of the American Medical Association
“…while not one poem in this collection speaks to the more stressful components of today's healthcare enterprise, economics and the sense of devaluation, they do address the more enduring values, values that will provide meaning long after managed care either matures or fades. They do so by sharing and celebrating, in an accessible poetic language, the full range of emotions that arise from acts of doctoring.”—Medical Ethics Newsletter


Alice Jones

Not everyone is so skilled
at the ancient art, not everyone
can exist on air, refusing
the burden of flesh. Hating

the yellow globs of fat in any
form—under the skin, padding
the heart, cushions for the eye's
globes, but mostly those

that mark her as her mother's—
the encumbering curves of hip
or breast, she eats only
oranges and water, a cannibal

of self. Trying to undo all
the knots the female body has
tied, all the cyclical obligations,
to gush, to feed, she chooses

to hone her shape down,
her scapulae prepared like
thin birds, to fly away from
the spine. Barely held together

by silk and liquid and air,
she floats, flightless, the water's
iciness along her back;
she tries not to be sucked

down by the black cold,
its deadliness pulling
at the nape of her long neck,
biting at her unfeathered heels.

El Curandero

Rafael Campo

I am bathing. All my greyness—
The hospital, the incurable illnesses,
This headache—is slowly given over
To bathwater, deepening it to where

I lose sight of my limbs. The fragrance,
Twenty different herbs at first (dill, spices
From the Caribbean, aloe vera)
Settles, and becomes the single, warm air

Of my sweat, of the warmth deep in my hair—
I recognize it, it's the smell of my pillow
And of my sheets, the closest things to me.
Now one with the bathroom, every oily tile

A different picture of me, every square
One in which I'm given the power of curves,
Distorted, captured in some less shallow
Dimension—now I can pray. I can cry, and he'll

Come. He is my shoulder, maybe, above
The grey water. He is in the steam,
So he can touch my face. Rafael,
He says, I am your saint. So I paint

For him the story of the day: the wife
Whose husband beat purples into her skin,
The jaundiced man (who calls me Ralph, still,
Because that's more American), faint

Yellows, his eyes especially—then,
Still crying, the bright red a collision
Brought out its perfect vessel, this girl,
This life attached to, working, the wrong thing

Of a tricycle. I saw pain—
Primitive, I could see it, through her split
Chest, in her crushed ribs—white-hot. Now,
I can stop. He has listened, he is silent.

When he finally speaks, touching my face,
It sounds herbal, or African, like drums
Or the pure, tiny bells her child's cries
Must have been made of. Then, somehow,

I'm carried to my bed, the pillow, the sheets
Fragrant, infinite, cool, and I recognize
His voice. In the end, just as sleep takes
The world away, I know it is my own.

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Publication Details

Publication Date
178 pages