Off the Shelf, Poetry Thursdays
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Between the Dead and the Dying


A scalpel, a corpse —
His beard is neat, his eyes are
Empty. Gloves hide clammy hands
Afraid of what awaits beneath

The surface of your eyes
Glazed over like new glue.
A few years ago you were still playing handball,
Twenty pushups every morning —
Now you lie
Heaped in a VA bed,
A sad magic act of disappearing

Muscles, skin, fat and bones —
How easy it’s become to turn these pages,
To remove him from himself.
We scissor off his fat and place it on the table.
Small mounds grow like mutant anthills,
Yellow, glistening and deformed.
I wear two pairs of gloves, and
Rinse until it hurts, but
The smell of his grease
Won’t leave my hands
No matter what I

Do you remember when I sat in your lap and you taught me how to slice bananas into my cereal
using just the spoon?
Do you remember when you let me hold the straightedge you used every morning to shave your

Beard sticks to the skin we steal from his face:
Is a man? Or was?
Sometimes I imagine he will wake up one day,
As we hack away at some part of his body — his feet, maybe —
And we will all freeze, scalpels and gloves suspended in front of us.
And he will look at each of us very seriously.
And then a slow smile will spread across his face.
And deep laughter will emerge from deep within his bare, torn torso,
And it will rise up powerfully through his body,
And I will finally know what his laughter sounds like when it escapes his dry

Lips struggled to move, but that was okay —
Words would not matter now.
You looked at me very seriously;
Apology and pride flooded your eyes.
You squeezed a final goodbye into my

Hands are the hardest part for me.

I thought it would be the face, but it is the hands.
The hands, with their unique creases and calluses —
Who store the written record of this life.
The hands, who I made helpless historians —
Who couldn’t hold on to the skin I peeled away


Poetry Thursdays is an initiative that highlights poems by medical students and physicians. If you are interested in contributing or would like to learn more, please contact our editors.


Gabriel Davis Gabriel Davis (4 Posts)

Medical Student Editor and Contributing Writer

SUNY Downstate College of Medicine


Gabe is a third year medical student at the State University of New York (SUNY) Downstate College of Medicine in Brooklyn, New York. In 2017, he graduated from Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri with a Bachelor of Arts in English. Gabe is interested in the power of creative and reflective writing for both patients and providers, and in his free time, he enjoys reading, writing, struggling to learn guitar, and exploring Brooklyn. After he graduates medical school, Gabe hopes to pursue a residency in psychiatry and eventually become a clinical educator.