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Editor's Commentary on "Grief and Other Remedies"

 , July 20, 2019

In “Grief, and other remedies” Elaine Hsiang weaves poignant fragments into a not-quite-elegy. Rather, this poem is a testimony, a “prayer,” and a directive “for medicine / to have more than one meaning.” While the final stanza implies that the speaker is a medical professional, so many lines have been blurred in prior stanzas that it is difficult to separate speaker from subject. By invoking “my heart” and “my hands,” and actions such as “I saw” and “I came to sob” the reader is stunned into a “small silence” – we are witnessing a different sort of doctoring, or perhaps a different sort of grieving.
The elision of identities in Hsiang’s poem raises ethical questions about boundaries. To what extent should we be involved in our patients’ lives? What is the best way to let grief change us? Will it make us better medical professionals, better human beings, or both? Or does emotion threaten to weaken us? Is Hsiang’s speaker referring to her own patient at all, or is the subject of the poem a loved one whose suffering elucidates a different “meaning” in medicine for the speaker? These are a few of the ambiguities presented in just thirteen couplets.
The strength of this poem ultimately lies in the number of questions it can generate. Poetry offers us a way to wade through the murkiness of uncertainty – in medicine and in life – and to get more comfortable with our emotions and all their paradoxes. “Grief, and other remedies” eloquently demonstrates this. It’s a poem that demands to work readers’ hearts and offers “more than one meaning” on the other side.'

Irène Mathieu