Embracing Poetry at the Massachusetts General Hospital

Embracing Poetry at the Massachusetts General Hospital

In April, the Massachusetts General Hospital hosted “Poetry At Work: Healing Words at the MGH.” This program was organized by Suzanne Koven, MD, MFA, who is a doctor in the Division of General Internal Medicine and Writer in Residence at the MGH. The goal was to highlight how poetry explores various themes relevant to healthcare such as “Beauty Amid Suffering,” “The Solace of Words,” and “Moments of Grace.”

Each presenter chose a poem that resonated with them. MGH President Peter Slavin, MD read When Giving Is All We Have by Alberto Rios, MGH Transgender Health Program Medical Director Robert Goldstein, MD, PhD read What If by Mark Russell, and MGH Institute for Patient Care Executive Director Gaurdia Banister, RN, PhD read Praise Song for the Day by Elizabeth Alexander. Five additional medical professionals in leadership positions at the MGH read poems as well as the Executive Director of Mass Poetry Daniel Johnson.

I had the honor of reading from my published book of poetry, Facing Into the Wind: A Mother’s Healing After the Death of Her Child.


A Welcoming Balm


We are sitting happily and easily.

I, on the floor, with a cushion behind my back.

Elizabeth in her bed, with pillows behind her back.


She’s styling her short hair and looking into the mirror.

She says that she looks like a boy.

With her big, almond-shaped hazel eyes,

with her long dark lashes,

she’s exquisite.


Her eyes sparkle on good days.

Good days do not happen very often;

good moments do happen.


Large, bulging tumors protrude on the right side of her neck.

Alien growths numb her chest and underarms.


Today, she is easy;

she wants to be a model.

She is daydreaming about modeling in front of the mirror.

“How long is my hair?,” a question she frequently asks since her treatments.

“Two and one-half inches,” I respond.


Plastic tubes draw oxygen into her nose;

the oxygen machine rattles nearby.


The late summer light is beautiful and soft on the trees outside;

the air is a welcoming balm.

Can this time of year last forever?

Can this peaceful afternoon never end?

Can Elizabeth’s health stay the same and not worsen?

Can we just call it a day, and no more tumors grow?

If I drew a picture of happiness, this would be it:

Elizabeth lying on her bed,

looking at magazines and chatting with me;

me sitting comfortably and chatting with Liz.


The weather is warm and the light is beautiful.

“Mommy, will you paint my toe nails?”

“Yes, honey.”

My hope is that the 100 medical professionals in attendance and 600 professionals and patients watching on Facebook Live gleaned how poetry allows people to open up to the universality of the human condition, and in doing so deepen our understanding of the fear and courage, suffering and healing, and doubt and hope that people with medical challenges and their caregivers carry with them every day.

Faith WilcoxComment