The Patient Presents
Genre: Collection (Poems)
- Coulehan, Jack
- Date of entry: Feb-07-2002
- Last revised: Nov-30-2006
The title of this collection of poems recalls the formulaic statement by which a physician introduces a patient's medical problem or chief complaint. For example, "The patient presents with a history of fever, abdominal cramps and diarrhea for the last 24 hours." Or, "The patient presents with a long history of hypertension and diabetes." In this case, though, Dr. White's patients' presentations are poems, rather than chunks of sanitized medical jargon; and, while the patient remains a key character in most of these works, they also present the doctor's story.
Domestic violence, child abuse, and sexual abuse figure prominently in these poems. In "365" (p. 1) a five year old girl presents with "a foul smelling vaginal discharge"; she was a victim of rape. Baby "John Brown" (p. 9) has 47 fractured bones and was "dipped in boiling water" for soiling himself. In "Ironing" (p. 18) a first grade girl has the impression of an iron burned into her thigh. And the two-year-old girl in "Peek" (p. 49) is admitted to the Intensive Care Unit (ICU) with cigarette burns and a liver fracture.
Dr. White also writes of babies left behind by their mothers ("Autumn Angels," p. 3), homeless mothers and children ("Numbers," p. 42), and complex multigenerational family pathology ("Riddle," p. 50). All in all, these stories carry the reader very close to "Looking at the Gates of Hell" (p. 32).
Yet, a still, small voice of calm, maybe even of salvation, can appear in the most unlikely places. In "Belly" (p. 4) the physician lays her face against a baby's belly and "the warm brown skin calms my forehead. / All stiffness melts." In "Maplewood & Greene" (p. 36) she revels in seeing "three little girls on roller skates." And in the Whitmanesque poem called "Oh" (p. 45), she gloriously affirms, "Oh to laughter, oh to sorrow / Oh to a better day, oh tomorrow."
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