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The F. Sean Hodge Prize for Poetry in Medicine

Sean Hodge, MD, a graduate of SUNY Upstate Medical University who went on to establish a thriving otolaryngology practice, died an untimely death in 2017. A physician who loved the humanities, he read and wrote poetry and played music as complements to a busy physician’s life. In his honor, his family and the Center for Bioethics and Humanities established this poetry prize, to encourage physicians and physicians-in-training to write poetry as one way of reflecting on and communicating their experiences. The inaugural winners of this prize are featured in this issue of The Healing Muse

How to enter:  

  • Submit through The Healing Muse’s Submittable website, healingmuse.submittable.com/submit
  • Indicate when asked that you are submitting for consideration for The Muse and the poetry prize
  • Confirm that you meet eligibility criteria
  • Limit of 5 poems/submitter
  • Submission deadline: April 15, 2020

Awards:  A $250 prize will be given in each of the two categories:

  • Current medical students, residents, and fellows
  • Physicians who have completed post-graduate training

Hodge Prize winners will be announced May 2020.  Winning poems will be published in the next volume of The Healing Muse.  All poems, whether or not they win a prize, will be considered for publication.

2019 Winners: 

Kasia Clarke, To My Husband and Fellow Medical Student

Your hands snap the ends of the green beans
sprinkle panch phoran onto the potatoes
stir tamarind through the onions

just before you practiced the exams
hands on my hands feeling temperature
spreading the palm lines apart to check the color
the pulse pressing under your fingers
the head of the stethoscope on my chest
heart sound one, heart sound two
careful on my skin, you are learning to touch

I see you in the kitchen splitting the brown eye from the skin of the tomato
the late sprouts of potatoes stacking up
even your fingers now, gentle as they palpate on my abdomen
harder now—no masses, no tenderness—I see the wedding ring
you wring your hands and forget parts of the exam
you examine under my chin, before and behind my ears, at the base of my skull
I shrug my shoulders and you check above the bones

you are learning and I am learning to be patient
say this, say your hands will heal
and before dinner the prayer is always bless the hands that prepared this
and I bless your cooking hands and your healing hands
the way you rub your palms together before touching
as if creating fire with sticks, two palms slightly warmer
more tender with confidence you ask if we may begin.

Louise Schneider, Deadline

—At Camp Sumter, the infamous Confederate prison commonly known as Andersonville, there was a line of wood posts 19 feet inside the walls that the prisoners were not allowed to cross. It was called   the deadline.

 
I defrost the bright green soup
made for a simpler day
of green beans and avocado
that seems too basic
for my tastes now.

Like soldiers at Camp Sumter,
I too face a deadline
of a certain yet ambiguous sort:
a hopeless prognosis,
not the end of a line of print
beyond which the text won’t go
nor the time when the news
is too old to matter,

but rather, like at Andersonville,
a wobbly line with absolute finitude:
shifting strips of board
nailed upon three-foot posts
illuminated at night by lanterns,
in some places an imaginary line
where the wood strips have unfastened.


Yet weren’t there times when a soldier
dragging himself towards
those hanging boards,
seeing the guard in his pigeon roost
inhale and lift his rifle
would contemplate and welcome
that death shot from crossing the line,
but who, for now, accepted his two-inch
square of cornbread, cowpeas,
and one-inch square of bacon?

Kasia Clarke, To My Husband and Fellow Medical Student

Your hands snap the ends of the green beans
sprinkle panch phoran onto the potatoes
stir tamarind through the onions

just before you practiced the exams
hands on my hands feeling temperature
spreading the palm lines apart to check the color
the pulse pressing under your fingers
the head of the stethoscope on my chest
heart sound one, heart sound two
careful on my skin, you are learning to touch

I see you in the kitchen splitting the brown eye from the skin of the tomato
the late sprouts of potatoes stacking up
even your fingers now, gentle as they palpate on my abdomen
harder now—no masses, no tenderness—I see the wedding ring
you wring your hands and forget parts of the exam
you examine under my chin, before and behind my ears, at the base of my skull
I shrug my shoulders and you check above the bones

you are learning and I am learning to be patient
say this, say your hands will heal
and before dinner the prayer is always bless the hands that prepared this
and I bless your cooking hands and your healing hands
the way you rub your palms together before touching
as if creating fire with sticks, two palms slightly warmer
more tender with confidence you ask if we may begin.
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