Rafael Campo, Poet and Physician


Poet ~ Physician


You say, “I do this to myself.” Outside,
my other patients wait. Maybe snow falls;
we’re all just waiting for our deaths to come,
we’re all just hoping it won’t hurt too much.
You say, “It makes it seem less lonely here.”
I study them, as if the deep red cuts
were only wounds, as if they didn’t hurt
so much. The way you hold your upturned arms,
the cuts seem aimed at your unshaven face.
Outside, my other patients wait their turns.
I run gloved fingertips along their course,
as if I could touch pain itself, as if
by touching pain I might alleviate
my own despair. You say, “It’s snowing, Doc.”
The snow, instead of howling, soundlessly
comes down. I think you think it’s beautiful;
I say, “This isn’t all about the snow,
is it?” The way you hold your upturned arms,
I think about embracing you, but don’t.
I think, “We do this to ourselves.” I think
the falling snow explains itself to us,
blinding, faceless, and so deeply wounding.  

Photo Credit: Robert Giard
Copyright: Jonathan Silin

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DR. RAFAEL CAMPO teaches and practices medicine at Harvard Medical School and Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston.  Author of eight highly acclaimed books, he is the recipient of many honors and awards, including a Guggenheim fellowship, an honorary Doctor of Literature degree from Amherst College, a National Poetry Series award, and a Lambda Literary Award for his poetry; his third collection of poetry, Diva (Duke University Press, 2000), was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award.  His work appears in numerous anthologies, including in the Best American Poetry and Pushcart Prize series, and in periodicals such as American Poetry Review, The Hudson Review, The Nation, The New Republic, The New York Times Magazine, The Paris Review, POEM (UK), Poetry, The Poetry Review (UK), Salon.com, Slate.com, The Threepenny Review, and elsewhere.  He lectures widely, at such distinguished venues as the Folger Shakespeare Library, the Library of Congress, and the 92nd Street Y in New York. His fifth book of poetry, The Enemy, was awarded the Sheila Motton Book Prize for the best collection of poetry published in 2007 by the New England Poetry Club, one of America’s oldest poetry organizations.  He has received the Nicholas E. Davies Memorial Scholar Award from the American College of Physicians, for outstanding humanism in medicine; he has also won the 2013 Hippocrates Open International Prize, one of the highest value awards for a single poem in the world, for original verse that addresses a medical theme.  His collection of poems Alternative Medicine was the subject of feature stories on NPR, PBS NewsHour and the CBC’s Sunday Edition radio show. His poetry has been translated into Spanish, French, Italian, German, Chinese, and Turkish.   He currently serves as Director of Literature and Writing Programs of the Arts and Humanities Initiative  at Harvard Medical School and Poetry Section editor for JAMA, the Journal of the American Medical Association.  His new and selected volume of poetry Comfort Measures Only is now available from Duke University Press.

Dr. Jerome Groopman, writing in the New York Times Book Review, says of his work, “Valuable and moving...he is undaunted by the ugliness of the physical deterioration apparent before his eyes, seeking always to capture the beauty of the human soul in struggle with physical reality;” while the Los Angeles Times proclaims it “reminiscent of Chekhov...in the way language comes up out of the body.”  The poet Sydney Lea, in a review for The Hudson Review, affirms “Campo chooses ritual gatherings not to celebrate our alienations, but our commonality, in which for the good doctor hope resides.  Rafael Campo is inevitably a poet of heartbreak, yet he remains a poet of accompanying hope. 




The wound is the place where the light enters you. -Rumi


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