This is a poem about medical success. The cardiologist speaker addresses a patient in absentia, thinking about the progress of the man's case on the occasion of making a house call. The doctor recalls the valve-replacement operation he performed in his early years of practice and is pleased that, clumsy as the replacement may be next to a good natural valve, it has kept the patient alive for seven years. The speaker sums up his view (in lines often quoted): "Health is whatever works / and for as long."


The cardiologist and his patient come from very different worlds, we realize, as the speaker recounts with tolerant amusement some idiosyncrasies of the patient's life--things like chewing tobacco, whiskey-filled music boxes, and an illuminated figure of Christ that "turns into Mary from different angles." But finally the poem celebrates these "peculiar" things as signs of a life that has been saved. Near the end the speaker sums up his pleasure with what he has found, saying to his imagined patient: "Here, you / are in charge--of figs, beans, / tomatoes, life." A nice affirmation of patient autonomy!


Also published in Stone's collection, Music from Apartment 8: New and Selected Poems (Baton Rouge; Louisiana State Univ. Press, 2004)

Primary Source

In All This Rain


Louisiana State Univ. Press

Place Published

Baton Rouge