“On an Organ Donation Run” Wins First Place

Student poets from across the country – San Francisco to Boston; South Pasadena, California to Providence, Rhode Island; and Iowa City and Cincinnati in between – entered NEOMED’s annual William Carlos Williams Poetry Competition

The first-place winner, Joey Lew, a first-year medicine student at the University of California, San Francisco, also scooped up an honorable mention – as did the second-place winner, Ellen Zhang, a first-year at Harvard Medical School. And it was a good year for Harvard, which was also represented by the third-place winner, Wesley Chou – a third-year medicine student at Harvard Medical School.

This is the 38th year for the NEOMED tradition, which honors the work of the American physician-poet.

Here is the poem by Joey Lew that won first prize:

On an Organ Donation Run

I am asked to close          up
(the body)
It is my very first operation

I never used to write from gut churning
I used to look life in its beady eyes
and juice all the gorgeous out of it
like strangling a monstrous fruit
with bare meaty hands made from

wrist-wringing and knuckle-cracking
in the back of a windowless classroom
asbestos lining the tight walls
I learned Spanish and then forgot it, learned
Spanish and then forgot
English and every word and now
I am looking at lungs inside a person
being removed from a person
and every word is forgotten

her family is praying for her soul outside
             make it pretty for the family
and every stitch is mis-
laid and corrected slip
the tail under the slick thread
and how do you make a pretty thing
with meaty hands inexperienced
in the body
             and its openings
and its closings
             and this place is so dark
so clean and my mind is so keen and so eager
if only I can do this right—

I never used to write about bodies and now
I close my eyes and open
an abdomen I could tell you every secret
the liver has but they would all be
lies I never learned how to close
myself up after injury

always seeping a little luxurious grief
and this person she figured
perhaps a professional might give her the
dignity of a job well done
but her knotted skin
is sallow and my knitting is a stitch
my grandmother never taught me
she was a psychiatrist
and when she died
she didn’t recognize her doctor
I don’t recognize
myself in scrubs so blue
and optimistic
so small and drowned in fabric
lady whose lungs we took away
I hope you’ll forgive me you
taught my clumsy hands
a new prayer

 

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