This collection by the Canadian physician-poet Kirsten Emmott includes poems on a wide range of medical topics, focusing on the physician's personal and professional growth, and the patient's experience as seen through the physician's eyes. Many of the poems deal with pregnancy, childbirth, and women's health issues. (104 pages)


Emmott's poem "Shamantic Journey" counterpoints the steps of medical education and the pains of medical practice with an ethnographic description of the shaman's "profound encounter with death and subsequent rebirth." She concludes the poem with an expression of gratitude to her patients: "It is you who have given me this; the extraordinary powers were yours. I have taken what happened to you and made it part of myself."

The poet has not only made these experiences part of herself, she has also transformed them into compassionate, often painful, sometimes humorous images of medical practice. She sees "the grief of the heart /. . . carried away / by the lacrimal duct."

She finds herself in the middle of the night driving "hundreds of silk rivets / into tubby hulls / bound only for the battles / of lower Granville Street." She rages against the Junkie Mother whose abandoned baby awaits adoption, and observes with compassion the weeping parents of a baby who dies at birth. While on a housecall to a sleepless bereaved patient at 3 a.m., the poet remarks--somewhat mournfully--"I should touch her shoulder but I can't; / my heart's not in it."

Many of these poems speak also to the physician's own health and the medical milieu. In the humorous "Who Looks After Your Kids?", Emmott gives tongue-in-cheek answers to questions often asked of women doctors. "Nobody," she responds: "I tie them to a tree in the back yard all day. My senile old grandmother. The Wicked Witch of the West." Likewise, she addresses the bias against women surgeons in "Short Man" where she writes, "We, the women doctors / are ignored eunuchs / slowly waving our fans / over the surgeon's beaded brow."

In a variation on the theme of physician compulsiveness, she points out that worrying about patients is addictive, "So you see / if I don't care about you / the way I used to, / it's a sign of my improving mental health." And in "Jaws," a powerful indictment of medicine's inability to "see" domestic violence, she recounts the tragic stories of victims.


Sono Nis

Place Published

Victoria, British Columbia