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Jessica Bloom

The young woman's daughter
is shy and beautiful.

Her mother comes to the clinic 
with vague complaints:
headache, stomach pain,
fatigue, weakness.
A small, sturdy woman
with an anxious face,
her square jaw is just a bit
bigger on the left. I picture 
the long-healed fracture
in her jutting mandible,
sealed beneath unbroken skin
the color of wheat fields.

Her story is slow to come out.
Many of the patients here
migrate from Mexico each year
to work on the mushroom farms.
I imagine the smell of wet dirt,
the cool, shadowy barns
with stacked rows of wooden pallets,
soft, white globes emerging
out of black soil.
I do not know the nature
of their toil, but I know
the weak resistance,
the fragile release,
of pulling a mushroom
from the earth.

I understand only pieces
of her rapid Spanish, but hear
the edgy thread of despair
that unravels in her voice,
suggesting the tight fist of her will
in which she holds her self-control.

The woman admits 
to feeling depressed.
She believes her husband
drinks too much,
and has been unfaithful.
With each admission,
of struggle, of fear, of abuse,
she seems to slide
nearer and nearer to tears,
and finally, she breaks.

Her daughter, astonishingly fearless,
looks up at me through thick lashes,
and returns my encouraging smile
with a four-year-old's feminine wile.
She goes to her mother's side,
without a word
to offer and receive
some measure of comfort.


About the poet: 

After a stint in private practice in Massachusetts, Jessica Bloom was on the clinical faculty of the family medicine residency in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, for a few years. In 2009 she joined the residency faculty at Eastern Maine Medical Center in Bangor, ME, where she continues to practice and teach the full spectrum of family medicine. Over the past ten years Jessica has published a smattering of essays and poems. "I have always found writing an essential activity that helps me record and process the experiences of medical training and practice." 

About the poem:

"This poem was written during my third year of medical school, when I volunteered to work in a clinic outside of my school in Philadelphia in Kennet Square, which had mostly Spanish-speaking patients. It was an early introduction for me into something that soon became a much larger part of my career."

Poetry editors:

Judy Schaefer and Johanna Shapiro