This long poem in 20 sections seeks to explore, dissect, and create a language for the experience of hemophilia. "Blood pools in a joint / The limb locks . . . " The poet first dissects words like "trans / fusion" and "hema / toma," and showers the reader with images (like splatters of blood?).

In section 5 he states his purpose in the familiar jargon of educational objectives and later, in section 10, he utilizes spacing and line breaks to convert standard admonitions into poetry; for example, "These child- / ren should / not / be / punished, and / their / play with / other / children / should / be super- / vised . . . " Isolated phrases and sentences appear--some from the hospital and some from the "outside" world.

In some phrases the worlds of outside and inside mix, as in "Arterial sunrise, capillary dusk." Section 13 consists of laboratory reports. The poem breathes in and out, between syllables and long lines, between prosaic statements and poetic images. Finally, the poet finds words for the endless rhythm of hemophilia, "Gratitude and / fear--Your relentless / rhythm--I move to / it still . . . "


Tom Andrews suffered from hemophilia, but he didn’t let the disease control his life. He not only rode a motorcycle as a young man, but in addition, according to Charles Wright in the foreword of Random Symmetries, Andrews achieved the Guinness Book of World Records by clapping his hands continuously for 14 hours [see also the poem, The Hemophiliac’s Motorcycle and the memoir, Codeine Diary: A Memoir, annotated in this database]. He died of a blood disorder, perhaps related to the many transfusions he received during his short life (40 years).

"The Language of Hemophilia" is an exploration of sounds and words and phrases that fill the life experience of a hemophiliac. The poem dissects, categorizes, and reconstructs. It caters to readers who love the sound of words and the way words work together, and the sight of patterns in which words are arranged on the page. This poem sings the structure of language, but ends with signification: "Gratitude and / fear--Your relentless / rhythm . . . " It pairs well with "The Hemophiliac’s Motorcycle." which begins with gratitude and continues as a paean of joy and acceptance.


Random Symmetries includes a foreword by Charles Wright [265 pages].

Primary Source

Random Symmetries: The Collected Poems of Tom Andrews


Oberlin College Press

Place Published

Oberlin, Ohio



Page Count