Off the Shelf, Poetry Thursdays
Leave a comment


I am waiting for my coffee when
a middle-aged Turkish man
asks if I am a medical student —

Curious, sharp eyes
settling on the ripped denim
over my knees, thin-soft
worn sleeves rolled
to rest at elbow condyles

I hesitate, surprise
running heavy liquid viscous
through the vein down
my calf, great saphenous
trickle underneath layers
of pulled skin over fascia

I wonder when it is
I became this house made of
glass. Transparency through
open-shutter windows,
haywire stems protruding from
rusty shuttered blinds I
have forgotten to polish
in favor of cutting open bodies

I have left my heart
somewhere in these clay pots.
It aches for the light,
grasps at hastily gilded rims with
unyielding fingers, asks
for respite from the stillness

When he asks if he
is right, I feel the answer
come to my mouth from
a great distance. The clang of protest
from the pot, muddy
confusion about what
it is that gave me away —

Between the spiraling of
vines and bronchioles
I am grappling for where
I misplaced my trachea,
anxiety like
a swallow’s wings fluttering
in my bones, I
have lost

the reason I came here at all.

At home, I sit with
hands folded in my lap beside
the glass door of my
balcony. Yes, I think, aloud
in the echoing silence of solitude

The shift of rotator cuff
muscles as I reach inside, arm twisting
around barely emerging sprouts
to reach for where my
heart has rooted deep

I am (a medical student) —

But it is not all that I am
in this, a moment of
conjunction, I am learning to
be both this
role I have assumed

and the heart that
tumbles back out from hiding,
the two morphing together in
this slowly clearing
house of light.

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.



Jennifer Li (3 Posts)

Medical Student Editor and Contributing Writer

Emory University School of Medicine

Jen is a fourth-year medical student at Emory University School of Medicine in Atlanta, Georgia. In 2016, she graduated from Emory with a Bachelor of Arts in English concentrated in multi-ethnic contemporary American literature and a minor in Music. Jen is passionate about addressing healthcare disparities, highlighting intersectionality and patient-centered care, narrative medicine, and mentorship/education. Aside from medicine, she also enjoys poetry, piano, tennis, indie concerts, Asian-American media, and spending too much time in coffeeshops. After graduation, she aspires to pursue a career in Internal Medicine.