How a Psychiatrist Writes a Poem

Readers often ask me this question, and my best response is to provide two examples from my poetry.

Writing the poem “Hospital Food”

The following poem was published in Psychiatric News, along with a prose description about writing the poem.

How a Psychiatrist Writes a Poem

I begin by remembering
my hours as a patient
and Freud’s “Fundamental Rule:”

Say Whatever Comes to Mind,
which is the sound of brown leaves
skittering across the sidewalk

on this mild November day
and the smell of smoke
from fires burning in the fields.

Then I relax into my leather chair
and recall the details of this morning—
my wife curled below our down comforter,

her breasts still warm while I dressed,
the texture of walnut bread in my mouth,
the taste of Earl Grey tea.

This is the moment my therapist
would cross his legs, look into my eyes,
and wait for me to reveal something

more painful, closer to the heart,
and just to please him
I might report a few small agonies

from my trip to the session— a delay
for the bridge repair at Rawson Brook,
the red glow from my battery-failure light,

or the threat of anthrax reported on the radio.
I’d say, “Bioterror reminds me of my father’s illness.”
And now that I’m talking about my father,

I can see my therapist move forward
in his chair and nod a bit faster,
which brings something to mind

I never thought to discuss—
last night’s conversation with my mother
who told me she has a melanoma

on her thigh, the thigh I hugged
as a five year old when we shopped
in the aisles of the Grand Union.

I remember those moments
as the closest we ever shared—
the soft, smooth plain of skin,

her delicate gold ankle bracelet,
khaki shorts and Shalimar perfume.
Yes, psychotherapy always leads back

to mother.  But before I can resolve
my Oedipal drama in therapy or this poem,
before I can make sense of the grief

I am just beginning to feel,
I hear my therapist say, “Time’s up,”
and he stands and gazes outside,

the way I gaze out my office window right now,
noticing how the leaves still cling
to the oak before they let go.