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."


In her author's note on the back cover, Kelley Jean White writes, "I have turned to poetry in the last few years because I have to . . . " She speaks of the violence, poverty, and abuse among the families of her patients and in the community she serves; and she intimates that poetry is, for her, a natural healing response. Making poems may well help Dr. White ameliorate her own pain, and, by transforming the children's stories, may also in some way assist in their healing.

Most of these pieces are casually narrative--case vignettes, if you will--but there is no question that they are real poems. Their claim to poetic status goes far beyond the manner in which Dr. White arranges lines on the page. They demonstrate sensitive selection of detail, frequent intuitive leaps, and a strong, rhythmic line. The voice is strong and consistent.

Many of these poems could be used in pediatric clerkships or nursing experiences, or in specific sessions dealing with sexual abuse, family violence, and the culture of poverty.


The People's Press

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