Category Archives: beauty

Spring Planting

—Richard M. Berlin
                 For Julianna A. Luntz Van Raan, 1950–1998
A morning call wakes me:
something hard and fibrous in her leg
growing fast and uncontrolled
that can’t be weeded out.
Through my bedroom window
I study winter rye in April
swinging on strong stems.
I wish I could plant Julie’s leg
in a warm tangle of earth,
turn her face toward the sun,
and let her nurse on spring rain
like the dandelions waiting
to fill the meadow with stars.

Reprinted from The Country Doctor Revisited (KSU, 2010) with permission.

Dr. Berlin celebrates Spring and reflects on his wishes for his patient who is dying of cancer.  We grow attached to our patients. Their losses can become our losses. Although we need to maintain a certain professional distance so that we can contiue to care for them, we can still feel sad and should make the time and space to feel our own grief.

When you grieved the loss of a patient for whom you cared, did you talk with someone about it? Did you cry? Write a poem or story? Go for a run or a walk? We may be scientists, but we have hearts and we are human.


Spring and All, Revisited

—after William Carlos Williams

–Richard M. Berlin

By the road home from the general hospital
under the surge of the pink
towering clouds drifted from the
southwest—a warm wind. Beyond, the
edge of a mountain pond, redwings
on bulrush calling out their claims,
circle of black water
the veil of thin ice, receding
All along the road, the same reddish
purplish, forked, upstanding twiggy
stuff of bushes you saw years ago
Damp and buzzing, spirited
spring awakens—
Pickerel feed in the shallows,
skunk cabbage on the shore emerges
brownish-purple and mottled-green,
shell-like and hot
around the knob of tiny flowers,
above them, a great blue
heron, alert, waiting
And I think of you, Doc Williams
stopping by the road to the contagious
hospital that morning, standing in a
cold Jersey wind
before the rush of nurses in starched
uniforms and white-winged
caps, your patients with diseases
I’ll never see, like the ferocious
little girl with diphtheria in “The Use of Force”
Right now I’m a hundred and fifty
miles from the waste of your broad
muddy fields, the end
of a day with dementia and AIDS,
headed home to redefine
the objects in my world—
raw knuckles of red
rhubarb breaking the earth’s clay crust,
sawed-off apple limbs expecting fire,
sticky-swollen horse chestnut buds,
tips sharpened to stingers aimed at the sky,
all around, the grass a rumor of green.

Dr. Berlin, a psychiatrist in western Massachusetts, is a wonderful poet. He is a careful observer of nature and life, as was Dr. William Carlos Williams who Dr. Berlin paraphrases here.

White Coat at Midnight

–Richard M. Berlin

This morning my best friend

will come with his chain saw

and ax, and we’ll cut down

the ash where a barred owl

perched last night and hooted

his four note song. We’ll split it

and stack it into cords, and I’ll be

thinking about midnight

in January when the air is twenty

below zero and the northern

lights shimmer purple and blue.

My Defiant woodstove will be

burning today’s work at 700,

and I’ll be warm enough to open

a window wide and listen

again for owls and the calls

of coyotes yipping at the moon,

my monogrammed white coat

draped on a peg, washed

whiter by the moonlight,

hanging around for the next

moment of healing, like winter

waiting for the earth’s heart to thaw.

 (Excerpted and used with the permission of the author, published in The Country Doctor Revisited, KSU, 2010)

Dr. Berlin, a western Massachusetts psychiatrist, is a gifted poet and observer of nature. Many of us who practice rural share the same love of the land as our patients. Watching the changes of nature both restores us and reminds us of the constancy of change in our lives. This careful attention to detail, much like mindfulness practice where you appreciate each moment and don’t get too far ahead or behind yourself, is in itself healing.

Learn more about Dr. Berlin’s writing