OHSU celebrated National Poetry Month in April this year with its fourth annual poetry contest and recognition event, sponsored by the OHSU Library. In the submission guidelines, poets were asked to focus on their OHSU experience, and the contest judges considered how well they expressed that theme, as well as artistic excellence, and the poem’s relationship to health and healing.
Student Sonja Halvorson won second place and an honorable mention for two of her submissions. These are the poems she submitted.
Operating Room, Number Twenty
Perhaps my favorite part of surgery
was when it had ended,
the music turned off
and it was time for me, just me, to wash the body.
Newly knotted sutures
recently remarried skin
ruddy with the damage we suffered it.
In need of rinsing, in need of care.
I sometimes wonder if I’m too tender
for this business of knives.
I should have been a velvet maker
a berry picker,
the belly of a brawny cat —
So I lived
for the moment after,
a new set of white gloves, the wet sponge
the clean blue towel.
Warm water, my hands on their skin,
as if to say I’m sorry, I’m sorry,
I know we helped you
but there were moments this hour
when all I could see was blood.
Out here, the deer
they walk me to the hospital – or I chase them from my frozen lawn down the lane, it
isn’t quite clear.
But when I emerge from the ER, sometimes in the chill dark night
they are often waiting for me — a throng of big, clear eyes
under a fold of country stars — ready
to gently usher me,
to guide me home.
This coming and going, chaperoned by 20 cloven feet, two antlers,
three white baby tails. Wind
jackknifing through the few trees, ruffling the golden spoonfuls of hills.
I am safe here.
We walk together, birds quirk and dizzy themselves at the clicking of hoof and heel against asphalt, the six of us
Straight out into the cool dawn, pushing forward through the mist
as though there is another world next to this one
that I could bend down beside
You have spent a lifetime
trying to hide
everything that you do not know.
And it may have worked for a while, to cloak
yourself so heavily
in that way.
But the time
(now, yes now, finally)
has come to expose the soft underbelly
of that fear.
You are not sure, really,
what honor looks like,
but perhaps it is small,
perhaps it is hearing yourself say:
I am unsure &
next time I will be better,
and if not,
again, I will ask again.
I took particular joy, in learning
the words of medicine.
The anatomy of my lungs,
who’s Indo-European root word means
made from my chest of luminescence,
each exhalation a refraction, something bright.
A white moon in my wrist, lunate, bobbing above
the boat bone, navicular,
created for me
a water color seascape under the skin.
There is great mythology in the story of this, my body:
A Greek shield of thyroid, who’s cartilage is sometimes called
the apple of Adam
(and wasn’t it Eve’s?)
It took careful time to map the landscape,
a taxonomy of physical shapes named after grapes
see: uvula and
botryoid tumors, congregated, like bunches of purple concord.
Eventually, I spoke like a local
no longer squinty eyed at words, quintuple syllabic.
It became quite easy to forget how many people
inhabit bodies, that are mysterious
not only in function, but
a handsome mechanic complained of palpitations,
worried it might be atrial “refrigeration.”
I smiled, feeling smug, while his heart,
beat wildly out of time.
It took me three whole hours to remember:
I require company when getting the oil changed in my car,
afraid that they will use words I do not understand,
afraid of appearing that I own something
I don’t have the language
About the Author
Sonja Jamaica Halvorson is a second-year student in the Physician Assistant program at OHSU. After graduation she plans to pursue emergency medicine in Oregon. Her poems have previously been published in Ephemera, Plume and the Iowa Writers Journal.
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