Plaintive Music

Domen, Ron

Primary Category: Literature / Poetry

Genre: Poetry

Annotated by:
Davis, Cortney
  • Date of entry: Dec-05-2017
  • Last revised: Dec-05-2017


Physician Ron Domen's first full-length poetry collection, "Plaintive Music," deserves, and requires, close and attentive reading. In these 47 poems, Domen favors short lines and keen attention to both sound and image.   

The collection begins with the poet's observations of nature, primarily celebratory poems with lush descriptions and musical language, including poetic tributes to  artist Charles Burchfield (pp. 1-6) and to Domen's father (pp.8-9). 

Human life is often considered through the lens of woods and birds, gray slate and rain, naturally occurring elements that lead to memories of family and place ("Wooden Ties" p. 10 and "Cutting Wood with my Son" p. 14). Domen's images, which are rich and exact, often reflect his physician training and experiences.  Consider these lines from "Woodturner" (p. 12).  The poet is working a lathe, shaping a birch log into a bowl until "the white / grain streaked blue and brown / with minerals nursed from the earth / glows like the veined translucent / skin of a newborn child."

The middle section of "Plaintive Music" includes poems that examine the many facets of the poet's experiences as a physician, beginning with the wonderful "Studying Medicine in Guadalajara, Mexico: 1971-1975" (pp 17-22). 

To read this powerful poem is to be there, driving to "the Queen City" five thousand feet high / in the Valley of Altemajac south / of the Tropic of Cancer" (p. 18), witnessing the lack of sophisticated cures ("No oxygen or drugs or IVs / and no machines to shock the heart / back to life only bare hands / pushed on his chest . . . " p. 19), "going door to door / to find the sick" (p. 20), and dissecting corpses pulled from a formaldehyde tank ("and each day scraped / and peeled away more flesh until nothing / was left to dissect and only / the bones remained" p. 22).  

This poem is followed by a long poetic prose statement, "Belated Letter to a Mother," in which the narrator recalls a night thirty years ago when, as an internal medicine resident, he was called upon to care for a battered child and give witness to the complexities of human frailty. Embedded in the letter are a few lines that perfectly describe the role of the caregiver: "That sometimes all we can do is what the poet does-- "to see, to hear, to feel-- and more times than not, it is enough" (p. 25).  

Poems on pages 17-36 especially gain power from the poet-physician's point of view.  Final poems move again into the realm of nature, but here the themes are darker, reflecting the wages of learning to heal:

"I studied in medical school to learn / what actually lies under thick / layers of skin and how the heart / hides behind the breastplate" ("Armadillo" p. 33).  

This collection comes full circle, beginning in "a time when flowers / had thoughts and the hills heard / turtles speak of the brilliant colors / of things growing" ("Beaver Creek" p. 1) and ending in winter, the darkest season, but not without its own beauty: "Snow begins to fall once again / on this windswept knoll along / the Lehigh River where the black // bony trees and dark gravestones / dot the slope of Nisky Hill" ("On Buying Our Gravesite" p. 61).


Domen is a poet of deep observation-- of the personal and intimate that is revealed both in nature and in our human natures.  He takes seriously a line from the book's epigraph, a quote from Charles Burchfield: 

"If you would be a poet, express the poetry of nature . . . ." 

Although only the mid-pages of this book deal directly with medical experiences, every poem in the collection reveals the author's connection to all that is living.  I recommend reading this collection from beginning to end, as one might read a novel, thus going along with the poet in his journey.   This book will be of interest to physicians, medical students, observers of nature, and any reader drawn to the medical humanities.


Dos Madres Press

Place Published

Loveland, Ohio

Page Count

65 pages