This is the first full-length collection by pediatrician and international health physician Roy Jacobstein. These 40 poems engage a wide range of topics, settings, and tones, but all demonstrate the same fine craftsmanship and strong voice.

Among the most engaging of Jacobstein’s poems are those dealing with memories of childhood and adolescence. Consider, for example: “Mr. Gardner in 10th grade told us there was no purpose / to mitochondria, only function.” (“Atomic Numbers,” p. 5). Or, “What transgression made fat Mr. Handler / drop his towel, his gloves, everything… to chase you from one end / of Fullerton to the other?” (“The Lesson,” p. 30) The poet displays a delightful sense of humor in pieces like “Bypass” (p. 36) and “Squid’s Sex Life Revealed in USA Today” (p. 59). Poems with explicit medical themes include “Pre-Med” (p. 6), “Admissions” (p. 8), and “What It Was” (p.11).


“Parting Conversation” (p. 52) stands out as one of the finest poems I’ve seen about how difficult it is to speak of dying to a person who is in the process of dying. The difficulty is not in trying to protect or assuage the dying person, but rather in having to admit that death is already gripping your own life.

In “What It Was” (p. 11) an exhausted pediatrics resident contrasts his skill at performing lumbar punctures with his helplessness against the emotional battering he experiences every day in his work. Given the lethal illnesses that consume his patients, the poet desperately clings to the hope of learning “what it wasn’t,” while the whole world seems to bludgeon him into knowing “what it was.”


This book won the annual Felix Pollak Prize in Poetry from the University of Wisconsin Press.


Univ. of Wisconsin Press

Place Published

Madison, WI



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