Published on Academy of American Poets (

Hospital Writing Workshop

Arriving late, my clinic having run
past 6 again, I realize I don’t
have cancer, don’t have HIV, like them,
these students who are patients, who I lead
in writing exercises, reading poems.
For them, this isn’t academic, it’s
reality:  I ask that they describe
an object right in front of them, to make
it come alive, and one writes about death,
her death, as if by just imagining
the softness of its skin, its panting rush
into her lap, that she might tame it; one
observes instead the love he lost, he’s there,
beside him in his gown and wheelchair,
together finally again.  I take
a good, long breath; we’re quiet as newborns.
The little conference room grows warm, and right
before my eyes, I see that what I thought
unspeakable was more than this, was hope.


Copyright © 2014 by Rafael Campo. Used with permission of the author. This poem appeared in Poem-A-Day on January 3, 2014. Browse the Poem-A-Day archive.

About this Poem

"The poem is based on my experiences over the years leading writing workshops for people living with illness (and also medical students and residents). I have witnessed first hand the power of writing poetry in abetting healing—poetry is able to name when the diagnosis eludes us, it calls us into community when symptoms makes us feel isolated or alone or even silenced, it engenders empathy when the doctor would distance himself—it even allows us to transcend our mortality by creating something that endures on the page long after we're gone. Many of the poems in my new book Alternative Medicine address such themes, and I hope ultimately makes the case for a practice of medicine that is more humane and compassionate than the depersonalized treatment our over-reliance on science and technology has instead advanced. If my patients have taught me anything, it is that healing is just as important as curing—sometimes, even more so—and it is poetry that can help us bridge these two distinct responses to disease and suffering."
—Rafael Campo


Rafael Campo

Rafael Campo was born in Dover, New Jersey, in 1964.

Date Published: 2014-01-03

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