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“It is difficult to get the news from poems yet men die miserably every day for lack of what is found there,” wrote the iconic physician-poet William Carlos Williams.

Williams points out in these lines an intangible power of literature—of all art—to change our world. 

Through artistic expression, we can appeal to emotions, arrive at harder truths, and importantly, we can plant the seeds for change, both within our individual selves and society as a whole.

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Reflections in the Psych Mirror

By Desire Takawira

In my native language Shona, a popular aphorism advises “seka urema wafa.” Roughly translated, it means “laugh at a cripple when you are dead.” In Shona, idioms like this are called tsumo. As with this example, most tsumo are as demonstrative as they are jarring, being rich in metaphorical meaning yet terse in expression. Tsumo collectively represent a form of cultural wisdom in Zimbabwe that older generations use to instill values and ideals in the minds of the young. In a sense, they are not so different from many American idioms. This particular tsumo calls to mind several American-isms most of you probably know, for example: “what goes around comes around”, “life is like a box of chocolates”, and “you reap what you sow.”

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Nephrostomy (for my aunt)

No OFF-button on the frickin' remote;
the tv hangs like an eye
which you watch prophilactically,
in case it might fall.

             (Surgery no picnic at seventy-five,
             not even an after-dinner mint)

Rough green swabs
clear the tongue's thick coating.
No liquid except through tubes.

Past scars of past wars foiled the surgeon,
squashed passages, leaked infections.
The only answer a new hole
to add to the old hole,
drainage, catheter,
four bags attached now,

Already editor for the Ostomy Society,
no one in your district
has this most exotic one.

              Nefertiti of the Ostomies.

Always did have to be

- Phoebe Grigg/UCSF staff

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World Backwards

As a young medical student,
I sat across from my patient in the old neuro ward.
A retired high school English teacher,
I knew she was once quite sharp.

Post-stroke, with signs of early dementia,
It was obvious that her mental faculty was waning.
She now silently sat in front of me,
With a recently stabilized small bleed in her brain.

She stared at me and spoke:
“My world… my world is…
I looked into her eyes as if I understood. 

“I don’t belong… to this world.
They know that… that the system.
It’s not the system… for me.”

She then chimed solemnly, “This is my… world.”
Still pools in her eyes, turned turbulent, cascading down.
A stroke of misfortune and now the breakthrough arrived rudely, brashly, unannounced.

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Winter Lullaby

I adore your gentle breathing, lying in my bed;
My plant has chosen you with drops of water on your head.

I adore you leaning over, blowing out the light;
Your lips will be my candle, burning through the night.

I adore that you adore all creatures meek and wee;
I adore the firelight that shines on you and me.

I adore you leaning over, blowing out the light;
Your lips will be my candle, burning through the night.

I adore your voice beside me biking to the sea;
I adore you, darling, every moment you’re with me.

~ T. Booth Haley/D4

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‘Stop Torturing Me’

By Ali Saadi

As is usual practice at the Multi-Service Center, a homeless shelter in the heart of San Francisco, I was sent out to recruit patients from the men’s floor. My goal was to recruit residents with health concerns, triage them, and invite the most pressing cases back to the homeless clinic that operates out of the first floor. I entered the men’s floor, welcomed by lines of dusty bunk beds that hugged four despondent walls.

Finding patients is usually an easy task: shelter residents are quick to spot clinic volunteers, with their crisp white coats and dangling stethoscopes, and freely approach them with concerns. This day was different. Most of the residents were busy watching a film in the recreational room, the rest dozing in their skinny green bunk beds.

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My mother was never superstitious
until she lost faith in her body—
with each new opaque mass,
her doctors uncovered
another dark star.

She started aligning furniture
with compass rose gardens,
invited stone guardians
to roar at hidden ghouls,
built doors she instructed
to greet the morning sun.

Her body she cleansed
until the insides burnt raw.
Nightly, she traced lines
in her palms like a prayer,
never doubting her palms
would betray her too.

~ Jenny Qi

“Palmistry” first appeared in What’s Your Sign? in 2013.

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Wishful Ending

Let me die in winter
Let me die in solitude
past midnight
with a flask of spirits
a cigarette that won’t kill me
winking at the stars

           Let me die with my back
           against a tree, snowdrifts
           hushing all sounds
           sit in stillness
                    become stillness

~ Sarah Paris
UCSF staff

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Last Night (On Call)

Last night I was called
to the front lines
where life and death battle it out
and no one ever knows
who will stay, who will go
or what, in the end, it’s really all about

I had little with which to defend myself
and no one I could save
not with my words, my touch
my sighs, my gaze
not even with the flesh and bones prayer
spilling from my lips, from heaven
or from the battleground down here

For the young Algerian mother with seizures
who cannot drive her daughters to school
who finally said no
to the man who beat her for a decade
who finally had the strength to make him go
For her, some kindness and a copy of the Quran
that’s all there was to give-
nothing more than a feather and a spoon
for the one with so much light
for her courageous fight to live

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Two Untitled Poems

I lost you at hello

Scars knit
intended wounds
over time
under clothes
same as accidental

~ Terri Mason
retired, USCF 


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