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Editor's Commentary on teen clinic

 , April 21, 2020

I love how Dallaire’s “teen clinic” pulses with a changing rhythm, her cadence and language creating at times a hit pop song, a fairytale, and a prayer. There is hipcoolteenagerebellion in her first stanza. I can easily picture the headphone-wearing teens with emotions-on-overdrive walking into clinic, bringing energy and spectacle into the sterile waiting room. The fast-paced no-commas style makes me feel, as I often do around teens, painfully aware of just how uncool I am. Later we have flashes of a happier time with “warm cookies,” “spiderman bandaids,” and a child with a “fistfull of balloon strings.” These idyllic images feel almost too sweet, like a child’s bedtime story, a fantastical tale we dream could possibly be true. Then finally, woven throughout the piece, there are sacred dark confessions and the mysticism of “whispering walls.” There’s “truth,” and the narrator is physically moved, left “breathless” and broken-hearted. I imagine a pious congregant in an empty church, questioning their faith in a moment of devastation. 

Dallaire intertwines and overlaps these disparate themes throughout her piece, highlighting the key juxtaposition of childhood and adulthood - the simultaneous skinned knees and questions about STI testing, the levity of warm cut grass and the gravity of neglect. This dissonance builds a poignant poem that captures the beauty of adolescence in all its contradictory glory. 

Caring for adolescents takes a certain chameleon skill set. Teenage patients are children, adults, and everything in between. And like Dallaire’s complex poem, they are often all of these at once. To work with teens, providers need to code switch like Dallaire does so beautifully and seamlessly in this poem. They need to listen, intently and without judgment, to these amazing “storytellers and truthspeakers.” 

Mara Feingold-Link