Founding Editor

Dr. Bonnie St. Andrews

Dr. Bonnie A. St. Andrews, founding editor of The Healing Muse and Distinguished Teaching Professor of Bioethics and Humanities at SUNY Upstate Medical University, died October 21, 2003 from a brain tumor. A brilliant scholar, incisive poet, and trusted colleague, she leaves a gaping, fathomless hole. We offer this page as a tribute to her visionary work in developing The Muse.

Dr. St. Andrews' stance towards medicine was complicated. She treated clinicians with a sentiment verging on awe: an amalgam of reverence, respect, and fear. She learned about medicine's tools-sonograms, chemotherapy, the scalpel-with a mixture of curiosity and skepticism. She described her work this way: "Entering a medical university, I was transported to a world of open-heart surgeries, DNRs, neonatal ICUs, and MRIs. I had found my strange way home to a place I'd never been before, leaving the illuminating questions of the liberal arts and entering the dubious certainties of medical science. Far from being separate, art and science, I discovered, are Siamese twins joined at the heart. They are two hands clapping."

In the inaugural volume of The Healing Muse, Dr. St. Andrews made plain her intent that the journal "show how the arts and the sciences can balance and sustain one another for the good of both patient and practitioner."

Dr. St. Andrews' poems appeared in some of the world's premier journals and magazines, including The New Yorker, The Paris Review, and JAMA. Of poetry's place, Bonnie wrote, "Poetry is not enterprising, having no bottom line even in a couplet. It [has] no motive more profitable than articulating the systole and diastole of the heart." Her poems capture and clarify our experience in the sparsest of language, giving voice to what most of us cannot articulate ourselves, but recognize as being true.

Bonnie's poetry is saturated with images of beauty; beauty was a theme of her poetry and of her life. She basked in the beauty of witty word plays and in ideas. She found the Center-her colleagues, the tranquility, our space-so beautiful that she called her office "South Paradise." Her poem "Green Orgasm," an ode to spring at her brother's maple sugar farm, captures Bonnie's delight at the beauty that surrounds us. "Heal Thyself" enjoins all clinicians to care for themselves, as they care for others. "Oncologist Lost" casts light on the oncologist's suffering, while in "Sly Lullaby: SIDS," the dead child speaks from the grave. We offer these poems here as a testament to her belief-and our hope-that beauty is still, even in the midst of the most tenacious grief, evidence that grace does not die.

Selected Poems of B.A. St. Andrews:

Green Orgasm

Again in the eastern woodlands
the miracle begins. What we
feared was locked forever

inside snow and isolation moves
imperceptibly together. As if
from the dead, passion rises

with the blood of maples and we,
brave as spring stars and old
trees, abandon the safety

of distances. We cast off
blankets piled against the graveyard
chill, cast off cottons, cast off

wool that sealed frail hopes
from one another’s hands. Almost
despaired of, the sap lifts on great

pulleys of sunlight, spilling into
buckets, mating with honey-tongued
fire, roiling and boiling into this

sweetest of sugars. Laud the green
of new-mottled lizards, praise
this pistachio air, rejoice

with white waters leaping
over the precipice of bone.
Greet with solemn joy

the small, speckled emerald
of the warbler’s egg, the music
of fiddlehead ferns as every

where the evergreen of mercy’s
season kisses us awake and every
thing shudders into now. Now.

Heal Thyself

Begin by remembering
your heart is a plum
and green is the season

of time. Put down
scalpel; put down pen.
You wait in white light

for a reason. To do nothing
is a difficult task.
You are meant to sit

in high silence. This dangerous
paying attention
requires the dominion of

the moment: the ant climbs
its blade of sweet grass;
skin whispers secrets

against your will.
The aim of all quieting
is to pierce the heart

of the target. As muscle
masters bone the soul
assumes its body.

Oncologist Lost

The doctor's shoulder dips unconsciously,
hand sliding over the cage of ribs where
the aging cardinal erratically clicks, its
tune trailing off like end notes in "Für Elise."

She is lost again, having "lost" a patient
she was hauling through deep snow
like some undersized St. Bernard.
She leans against the wall and casts

a taller shadow, shadowed herself by
sorrow that looms behind her like the memory
of the Savior she's supposed to be.
Yet she will herself be saved and led back

to the fireside by those still left to lose:
the Saving Remnant who beseech her
in a silence which she hears as plainsong.
She will come Home, past cemeteries

and broken stones. In a dream
she will find (finally) the Lost One,
gliding behind a singing waterfall
to discover a cave of stars.

The physician will walk again
waxed corridors in her hospital
white, crisp as a reborn hyacinth,
standing in those shoes of snow.

One Concrete Weekend

I. Saturday Sonnet

Contagious as a yawn
this mowing of summer lawns.

One motor starts the hive;
the block buzzes alive.

Washing cars in driveways,
too, is a fine

peer pressure thing to do.
Each radio blaring

is a ritual of sharing.
Yard by yard, propane lights

where steaks rise like incense
to Saturday night.

Thus do city folk savor
this sense of being Neighbors.

II. Sunday Morning

Festive as confetti
indecorously strewn

across our bed, under
our easy chairs, covering

our kitchen counters
these newspapers are

commemorating another
world-weary week.

Yet this day, all day,
all around the house we flow

languid as feather boas
(exotic and amorous) draped

across soft shoulders
knowing Sunday lovers

all over town are
stirring, making coffee,

making love, making
their own good news.

Sly Lullaby: SIDS

We believed in our Trinity:
Mother, Father, and me,
love stable as a triangle.

We left our Snuggery
safe as any Holy Family.
But we learned nothing

could keep disaster from
our nursery. No charm, no
mystic talisman enfolded

me, shrouded me in light
to stop death at my
threshold. Death spoke

a single word, crushing
the cradle of hope.
The jackal stalked

our sanctuary so filled
with promise, so alive
with prayer. Stealthy

death climbed the stairs
and found my pampered room,
painted and festooned

with parrots and blue moons.
Death slid below the water
stretching wide its

crocodile smile. I did
not cry out, feeling neither
panic nor pain. Just a slight

tightening. Death spoke
my secret name. I could not
stay with them. Now

nothing in realms of
medicine, where those two
remain, explains how

my breath was caught
inside those jaws and I
cannot console the two

who spread wide wings
above me, vowing to protect
my rabbit heart so fiercely

quieted.   They saw my
future as a lemon drop:
sweet and warm and tart.  

How could they foresee
crushed velvet, purple
crepe, a miniature autopsy.

I hear their bitter cry
as science probes
its anguished why.

Burying the Cat

The cat died so dehydrated
it smelled fragrant as cut
straw. In her old Egyptian

shawl, she rolled all nine
thrilling lives rich as
potash in the loam, then

made the sad climb home to
comfort the children winding
around her legs like kittens

left behind. She found two
cards already written to
the cat (smeared with baby

tears and their best Crayola
black). They insisted that
she draw one, too. She’d seen

animal death a time or two
through adult, artistic eyes:
the luster off the feathers

of the pheasant with the floppy
neck, no bead of breath marring
the onyx bill of that rainbowed

bird. Painters in her circle
even have a word for it: life,
they called it, still-life.

From Learning From Renoir, Wells College Press, 2003

Published in The Healing Muse, Volume 10

Opening the Summer House

Sun-drenched again and one
with the universe I am
sweeping this kitchen singing
at the top and bottom of
essentially tuneless lungs.

On the porch I contemplate
a cormorant precariously balanced
atop sails, wings outstretched
frail as a purple Jesus
steadying for nails.

Being neither bird nor sacred
boy, I tremble in joy if not
redemption and scrub down
doomsday thoughts and dogmas
of denial. For a precious fortnight

sin itself is not on trial. In
beguiling heat I perceive myself
a Deity and so decree; humans
need atone for nothing.
Cardinal-hatted hollyhocks agree.

My life plies with waves that
leap like ballerinas on the jetty,
spinning diaphanous skirts of
foam. Gull, cod, cloud, plover:
everything dances or hovers.

Crescendo, decrescendo, Triton
blasts sea-symphonies against
stone. Sunbeams clap topaz
hands while girls plant shells
like dreams in amber sand.

I am planting, too. Come
high tide and harvest moon
Love itself may slide
inside my cave of dreams,
mystic and wild as a silkie.

Alive with light I am
pounded thin as a compact disc
by sound; I am a silver filament
humming in August heat, a one
woman network of good news.

All my links and lines are
open. When I take the airwaves,
Mother Nature has Her say.
Pipers promise “Yes!”
South winds murmur “Stay!”

Published in The Healing Muse, Volume 12

Happy Accidents

With a Buddha’s certainty
you face the fact of stumbling into
states of grace that have absolutely

blessed nothing to do with what
you’ve earned any more than those
logs in the hearth deserve to burn

as artfully as that. It’s just a proven
metaphysical fact that some days
all locked doors seem to swing on

hinges.  For example that wooden
gate carved with the moon and stars
stands suddenly ajar and you walk

through to secret gardens you always
knew were there: columbine, trillium,
naiads everywhere. You hesitate in

momentary fear but the dragons of
permission simply don’t appear.  All
sorrow falls asleep as if an angel

spoke. You don an invisible cloak
and move free as light or smoke
across the thresholds of your

heart’s desire.  When you walk
unscathed within such sacred
fire try to string that amber flame

into a rosary you can finger to remind
you later when all doors are closed
again and bolted from behind.

Published in The Healing Muse, Volume 8

The Gallery

Note how your breathing changes
as you enter this sanctuary

where every thing human hands
can make beautifully stands trial.

Trust these first impressions:
light does soften this world of rock

into a vision by Monet. You can catch
the scent of Renoir’s fruit: grapes,

translucent muscadine, peaches,
heaped like Harvest Moons

in an earthen bowl. Gather courage
in Cezanne’s ordered spaces:

frail walls of blue and burnt sienna
can hold off chaos and do.

Free fall, at last, into a net of colors.
Cassatt will row you home.

This poem first appeared in the Christian Science Monitor May 19, 1987.

Published in The Healing Muse, Volume 6

On the Perfect Child

Amniocentesis, sonogram, the genomic
road map are all different ways
medicine has planned to cut out difference.

We help parents find their way past Scylla
and Charybdis, past the surprises of
conception now we no longer trust Mother

The assurance of prediction,

the perfectibility of man.
What have we prepared for
the changeling child who climbs
a different set of spiral stairs,
this visitor whose XXY suggests
an algebra of aberration, whose
extra chromosome (that embarrassment
of riches) creates an alchemy
of disaster? Our brave new
world has little room for this
fetus and welcomes it with
lullabies like sirens wailing
and the sterile inhalation
of vacuum pumps. A little
act of love gone wrong is
quietly entombed, a tidy
clean-up of the family genome
is achieved and we remove
all trace of this mistake
relieved to welcome the next
perfect child and name it
God made flesh and angel eyes.

Published in The Healing Muse, Volume 7


Across the mountains
your heart sleeps.

This love that tears
my breast can find

no rest inside the mews.
I throw my heart

As if it were a hawk,
into the sky

and bid it fly to you.
Fierce and fleet

its wings beat against
this separating air

to accomplish what it
cannot understand.

Believe that it will
land harmless as a rainbow,

a wish, an autumn leaf
on your outstretched hand.

Published in The Healing Muse, Volume 11

Oncological Cocktails

Looking too young to bar-keep
the technician comes in shaking
a beaker that froths and hisses

like volcanic vodka or martinis
mixed by Mr. Hyde. Artless as an egg
she offers me this cocktail

neat or on the rocks and won’t take
no for an answer.
We do not speak of cancer.

Ninety proof and guaranteed
to knock me sober, this
barium refresher is served always

with a twist. It smells and tastes
like a nuclear waste site
laced with a splash of lye. Trying

to be philosophical as a Greek
and brave as a Roman gladiator
I quaff this pewter sludge

without flinching, without betraying
my mortal fear the fluoroscopy
will show my troops have broken

rank and an army of mutant cells
advances along my exposed flank.
Have I already lost that

battle against aggressors
who sail their warships
like pleasure boats along my

defenseless coast and set up
camps upon my shores? Accepting
that I must join forces with

allies I neither know nor trust,
I lift the proffered cup as Socrates
must have: one eye on the door.

Published in The Healing Muse, Volume 13