This three-part collection of poems offers powerful images and vignettes from the life of a family practitioner living and working among the urban poor. The first section is the most explicitly medical in theme, including poems that pay painful tribute to a mother after stillbirth, a hydrocephalic child, an addict covered with boils, a young man murdered at eighteen, an old man with a failing heart.

The second section weaves images from the writer's personal story together with those from his life as physician, and the third focuses primarily on life lived as a gay man among the sick and dying, patients to be treated and friends to be mourned while life remains to be claimed and savored.

Despite the pain and grief attested to in many of the poems, a lively voice of clarity, compassion, and consent to the goodness of life even on hard terms gives the collection a defining note of celebration. Pereira's lines about a bereaved Cambodian seamstress suggest something true about his own work: ". . . she joins the circle / of other Khmer women to sew. / Punctuating the fabric / with yellow thread, finding her remnants / into a piece that will hold." ("What is Lost")


These surprising poems may be dipped into at will, but may best be read at one delicious sitting. They take the reader into places rank with decaying flesh, ringing with cries, bleak with the emptiness of loss, but hold one there, fascinated and moved by the occasions of love the writer recognizes in the demands of his work. Images of flowers, vines, vegetable garden, winter fields and parks and houses where couples dance and babies reassert life going on lift the poems into song.

Clearly the work of a physician whose heart has been opened by personal suffering, they are also beautifully crafted poems, unpretentious, frank, and accessible, but rich with memorable lines that offer a precision of feeling that is perhaps the best testimony of the quality of attention we hope for in a caregiver and keeper of words. Highly recommended especially to those who work where suffering is daily and visible.


This collection won the 2002 Hayden Carruth Award.


Copper Canyon

Place Published

Port Townsend, Wash.



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