“The Healing Profession”

A weekly poem, read by the author.
Oct. 23 2012 8:15 AM

“The Healing Profession”

A doctor wearing green scrubs and a stethoscope.

Photograph by Stockbyte.

Click the arrow on the audio player to hear Tony Hoagland read this poem. You can also download the recording or subscribe to Slate's Poetry Podcast on iTunes.

The nurses and orderlies from the hospital
come into the coffee-shop in their blue and green scrubs
with their ID cards on cords around their necks.

They stand in line for their lattes and iced coffee,
checking their phones,
faces bathed in a light cocktail
                                of piano music and air conditioning.

I thought I was destined to spend all my days
trying to get women to take off their clothes
or to win an award for the underachievement
                                                        of half-formulated goals

but it turns out my vocation was to see
just a few scenes that are presented to me:
the intern whose stethoscope is slung like a necktie

over her left shoulder;
the surgical aide
who hides her bad teeth with one hand.

There is an air that quietly adheres to them
which comes from the ethical work
                              of laying hands on the distressed,

so simply to watch them is touching-
simply to observe their flat-soled practical shoes
                    and casual, resilient mouths

making the shapes of “Muh” and “Oh
for Mocha,
Kuh” for Cardiomyopathy.  It is as if,                                             

having squandered one life,
I was erased and given another
        in which I am allowed to be

the green starched cuff on the orderly’s uniform,
tight on his light brown wrist,
       and how his long, competent fingers 

hold the paper cup of Brazilian decaf
into which a lot of milk
and zero calorie sugar has been stirred.

For Slate's poetry submission guidelines, click here. Click here to visit Robert Pinsky's Favorite Poem Project site.

Tony Hoagland's most recent book of poems is What Narcissism Means to Me.

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