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Healthy Balance

Poetry Friday: The Maddening Gladness

Every week we’re publishing the winning poems from April’s medical poetry contest. This week’s poem won one of two grand prizes.

The Maddening Gladness
By Jarish Cohen

ars medicina, from a language that has long been dead-
the whitest gleam of the short coat , the greenest sheen of the mind
embark on a journey through the greatest benefit to mankind.
hurry, the current is swifting now-
catching the flow of information
trying not to reveal the desperation
reveling in the rage of fixative singeing the first cranial nerve
running greased-gloved fingers through cadaverous sinews in preserve
running on fields in the cold brought relief, colors flying around in frenzied excitation.
the madness of quiz, exam, quiz, exam, formative, summative, formative, summative
blending into one and the same, additive
assessment beyond assessment, mountains beyond mountains.
we travel in packs, sit in groups, evolve and revolve around unifying ideas-
osler said, “the foolishness of yesterday has become the wisdom of tomorrow”
(what the hell did i study last night?)
finite pages stretch into infinity
and infinity alights on the cavernous whites of our matter
stretching toward an end and new beginning of the maddening gladness-

trying to uphold the façade of knowledge
thrust from some unseen relentless torrent-
library lights became friends and their hum became uneasy speech
the taste of liquid morning and night (and oft times loneliness) began to stale.
i try to find another,
(can we just talk about sports or something?)
ping-pong study breaks, mulholland movie nights, youtube dumb diversions
whitewashed walls and whitewashed minds intermingle amongst the weary ether-
zollinger-ellison plummer-vinson osler-weber-rendu stream in and out
directing neurons toward some sympathetic end
second messengers tirelessly embed memory formation
action potentials are the difference between success and failure
(oh what i would give for more myelin!)
the terror of not knowing and knowing that you do not know
the terror of exam-taking, waiting, determining life beyond life
to pass into an end and new beginning of the maddening gladness-

here’s a scalpel son, cut along the line-
i am fed to the teeming sharks that circle round and round
bottom of the barrel feeding on morsels left by lowly level interns
(where am i and how did i get here?)
the sage speaks again, “the great physician treats the patient who has the disease”
(ah but what disease, what disease!)
reynold, charcot, cushing, virchow, beck-on
(what pentad and innumerable triads!)
differential personalia conjure amalgamated diagnoses
charts, tests, blood- there’s real alchemy
we extend and retract through hallways struggling to live, though fiber-optic hallowed landscapes
we are the totality of our experience-
bleary eyes, sleepy standing, zombie hallways, harsh fluorescence, dogged nights-
far away a mother cries and nearer now a newborn
(what will become of you who enter this unforgiving world?)
wanting to be mindless, to mill about the outside world, to breathe air that has known the sky
vital signs pull back and fight against escapism
we pull through the day
and the night
come round to an end and new beginning of the maddening gladness-

finding a path to a better tomorrow-
(who am i again and how to put it into words?)
to express myself in mortal speech is to ask too much-
clicking inspired buttons determine destinations that await
name, school, honors, awards, publications, employment, volunteer activities
(who has time to volunteer?)
a dizzying swirling mass of bits and code composite me
or who I purport to be
invitements, excitements
flight-planning, ego-fanning
words emerge, the same jumbled spew that has been said before and will be said again-
thumb-twittling, watchful-waiting, hoping, seeing the future
that cannot come soon enough
(did they blunder in choosing me?)
joyous wonder that i am perhaps capable of something
of just something
or even to venture so far as to ponder-
about greatness
(hell, i’d take competency on a silver platter)
it seems like yesterday i was struck with fear of a different matter-

we have done well you and i,
we have spent our hard earned tears
we have lost our sentimental sweat
we have gone round the vastness of our capabilities
we have found that it is yet vaster than we had imagined
we have held hope and fear in the palms of our hands pulsing with life and fading to death
all this we have found, and more now and more and more
to reside once more over an end and new beginning of the maddening gladness-

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