A doctor confronts ailments of the spirit as well as of the body in these raw, anguished poems.
Patients troop into a nameless family physician’s office with a collection of poetic complaints, the sort that aren’t generally conducive to ready cures. Some patients face terminal cancer or permanent disability, some wrestle with schizophrenia or obsessive-compulsive disorder, some simply want to unburden themselves of the heartache of marital infidelity or the sorrows of growing old. As the doctor listens, Hahn the poet, drawing on his 30 years in medical practice, registers a wide range of voices and the characters they reveal. A desperate pain-sufferer begs for an OxyContin fix (“I could get all I need off the streets but why make me break the law?”). A blustering businessman tries to bully his way through his condition (“You have one month to control my blood pressure or I find a doc who knows what he’s doing”) and a battered wife insists that “He cares about me. / Calls me every hour to make sure I’m OK….I just wish he’d take off the ring before he hits me.” Hahn infuses these poems with vivid imagery—“I gently stroke his nape,” says the mother of an autistic boy, “and he cries as if / a thousand blades had raked his skin”—and the occasional flight of offbeat lyricism. (A man who has lost his arm likens himself to “the frog who by chance misfortune, / slips into a vat of milk. / The sides are too smooth, to slick to climb / so all he can do is paddle.”) Mainly though, these voices have a blunt, plainspoken clarity—“Why am I here today? / I’m nervous, dammit. I need a pill. / And I hear you listen”—that speaks volumes about the human predicament.
A sheaf of revealing X-rays of the soul in distress.