Wednesday I.D. Clinic

Hacker, Marilyn

Primary Category: Literature / Poetry

Genre: Poem

Annotated by:
Stanford, Ann Folwell
  • Date of entry: May-22-2001
  • Last revised: Dec-12-2006


The speaker addresses her friend, a caregiver (it’s not clear what her or his status is, possibly a volunteer) in an infectious disease clinic, noting how the friend empathizes with and carries the words of the patients within her- or himself.


This poem of eleven couplets looks at the relationship of a caregiver with her or his patients, most of whom are poor. The speaker notes that this caregiver "know[s] their faces" and says, "You tell me a first name, /. . . temperament and age, even a T-cell / count, if I ask, which will probably be less / . . . than it was." The patients ask for vitamins, condoms.

One woman in the clinic bounces her baby on her knee, "starts, almost imperceptibly, to keen /. . . a lullaby, or is it a lament? / . . . As your heart beats, you rock her, in a mental / . . . mutual embrace (you’ve hugged her) which allows / . . . you to breathe with her, pause with her, swallow / . . . the hard words." The speaker ends the poem with this beautiful image, adding that "She’s with you when you come downtown / later. You could keep it to yourself. You won’t.

The poem looks at empathy and would be a good beginning place for a discussion on so-called objectivity in doctor- or caregiver-patient relations and the possible costs, not only of empathy, but of distance as well.

Primary Source

Squares and Courtyards: Poems


W. W. Norton

Place Published

New York



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