Like the train images in the last two stanzas, this poem is a train of thoughts about medicine, doctors, and patients' relationships to doctors, medicine and illness. The poem begins with the narrator's (presumably the poet's) Chinese doctor writing a prescription in Chinese. The poet begins daydreaming about the characters, and this leads to a soliloquy about daydreaming and illness and the slower pace of the ill, hanging "suspended in the wallpaper" of waiting rooms.

A recollection of the poet's "lady doctor" and his infatuation with her leads to a revelation of his desire to have illness and suffering, just to be with her. He philosophizes "suffering itself is medicine / and to endure enough will cure you / of anything." He decides he'd like to suffer like his mother, who seemed to not only accept, but also relish, the sick role of the weak, dependent state.


Many things become medicine in the poem: the prescription itself, the doctor, the patient's imaginings about the doctor, suffering, the reception of an injection, the acceptance of illness and its debility, and the journey of illness itself. The tone of the poem, which is at times playful and humorous, serves as an edgy contrast to what is being said.

For instance, in discussing the altered, stilled sense of time during illness, the poet states that you begin to feel "a strange love / for the time that might be killing you." Contrasts, fresh, lively perspectives, memorable images, and ideas turned on their heads are characteristic of Hoagland's excellent writing.

Primary Source

Donkey Gospel



Place Published

St. Paul, Minn.