Wednesday, March 07, 2007

The ED Sonnets: Hall Bed 6, Room 6.1

I finally have two more sonnets! These are modified Petrarchan, with the first eight lines rhyming abcd abcd rather than the standard abbacddc. These sonnets are the poetic form of the visit I described in my earlier post Voices.

I struggled a lot, with Gary's help, over the twelfth line of the second sonnet. Does the word "excruciating" convey the sense that the voices have gotten even louder since the patient's family left? That line originally read, "The din's/grown deafening: 'Die!' He came here instead," but Gary pointed out, correctly, that "die" shouldn't fall on an unstressed beat. I kept trying to find ways to keep "Grown" as the first word of that line, but no following word I came up with (raucous, grievous, howling) seemed strong enough.

I couldn't cover the entire visit in these twenty-eight lines. I thought of adding a third to describe the patient's artwork, but I wanted to stick to my scheme of one poem per patient location, and Gary thinks these two get the idea across.

All feedback will be welcome!


Hall Bed 6

He’s been asleep, but as I pass, he stirs:
squints up at me, and when I introduce
myself -- “I visit everyone, in case
they need to talk” -- he nods. “I need to talk
about how no one understands. It’s worse
when doctors don’t; they should. There’s some excuse
for other people. No one knows!” His face
begins to crumple. Techs and nurses walk
obliviously past. “What would you tell
us if you could?” He shivers. “What it’s like
to hear the voices.” “I don’t understand
that either, but I really want to. Will
you tell me?” “Sure.” He almost smiles -- for psych
evals, that’s huge -- and reaches for my hand.


Room 6.1

But first, I ask his nurse if we can move
him to a newly empty room. “I hate
this hallway; everybody stares!” The nurse
agrees. He tells me how for twenty years
three ceaseless voices have harangued him, have
not once been silenced, can’t be medicat-
ed into stillness, only grow perverse-
ly louder when he sleeps, won’t disappear
until he’s gone himself. “They want me dead.”
He has a job. He had a family,
but they walked out two weeks ago. The din’s
excruciating: “Die!” He’s here instead.
I praise his strength; he nods distractedly.
I’d surely, in his place, have given in.


  1. Glad you are back to writing sonnets, Susan! Once again you've taught me something new about poetry. Thank you! These were interesting! I'd expected meter and a rhyme that ended a thought, instead they read like prose. It had never occurred to me that you could cut a word at a syllable to make a measured line fit the mold of a poetry form. Cool! It takes a master to mold a form to their purpose.

    I think you did a good job of putting that difficult conversation into poetic form. It surely deserved the focus and emphasis that poetry gives. You've a right to be proud of your skills!



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