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Medical Humanities

The Poet

Phoebe Prioleau

February 9, 2016

Before I met the poet, I visited her room. It was a large, rectangular space with a high ceiling, ocher walls, and two plastic-paned windows looking out on an office building across the way. The lack of curtains lent the impression that it was bigger than it was. Later, I found it difficult to imagine that in this place without screws, knobs, or hangers, she tried to write. Her bedside table must have been the one with the old edition of H.W. Janson’s History of Art, not the one with the flowers stuffed in the cut-off plastic bottle. 

When we met in the conference room in the ward, a bright, overly cheery space with a smooth oval table and a dozen or so swivel chairs, the poet was clutching a book of Shakespeare sonnets and adjusting her blue smock. “I don’t write formal verse myself,” she said, before we’d talked about anything else. “It’s a good idea to learn from the masters, though.” She listed the poems she had published over the years, along with the libraries that carried her works. “You know, I’m quite well-known. I was famous in my day. I’m even in an anthology.”

She said that this was maybe her tenth time in such a place, but who knows, it could have been more or less. As the poet spoke, she tapped the table in syncopated rhythm—first one nail on the lacquered surface and then two and three. “Please,” she said, “I want to be discharged. I’ve had enough.” Instead, I led her back to the room without screws, knobs, or hangers and placed the Shakespeare sonnets on the bed that was probably hers.   

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