Martin Kohn

(for Helen)

This openness into
This brightness onto
This bodied and

This close
and blinking
This shutter stop

Your round soft
shoulder pillowed
beneath a feeble
The Lord
“not quite ready”
to take you
even though you
and Trixie your cat
had walked the dark path
to him again

“Get back to where you came from!”
–the Lord bellowed
You and Trixie complied
content to wait
licking the saucer
with each sweep
of the second hand

About the poet:

Martin Kohn is director of the program in medical humanities at the Center for Ethics, Humanities and Spiritual Care, Cleveland Clinic, and associate professor of medicine at the Cleveland Clinic Lerner College of Medicine of Case Western Reserve University. He cofounded the Center for Literature and Medicine with Carol Donley of Hiram College, and with her served as a founding editor of the Literature and Medicine book series at Kent State University Press. His poetry has appeared in print and electronic journals including Pulse, Exquisite Corpse, Ad Libitum/Annals of Internal Medicine and ZEEK: A Jewish Journal of Thought and Culture.

About the poem:

“Helen, my father’s significant other (they couldn’t afford to lose Social Security income by tying the knot), outlived Dad by about fifteen years. Not long before she died, I received a frantic call from Helen’s out-of-town daughter expressing concern that Helen was going downhill fast (‘not eating’ and ‘talking strangely about visiting God with her cat!’) that got me into my car early the next week for the trip to Ashtabula, in the far corner of northeast Ohio. When I entered Helen’s room, I could see that she had changed (not nearly as much as I had feared), and that she seemed at peace. I visited for a few hours, trying to remain fully present, but also sensing that what she was telling me was already starting to take shape as a poem. Helen lived for eight more months before dying in August 2013 at the age of eighty-six. During that time, when I asked her for permission to publish this poem, she sent me a card saying that she was honored and touched by it, and thanking me for my ‘spirit insight.’ “

Poetry editors:

Johanna Shapiro and Judy Schaefer



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8 thoughts on “Aperture”

  1. Thanks Marty,
    We physicians need the help of our colleagues in the humanities to understand and deal with life’s challenges, such as slow dying.

    1. Hi Joel– sorry for the delayed response….and thanks for your thoughtful comment…It’s always so good to hear from you– and to think of our Hiram days together! Hope to see you one of these days as we pass through Buffalo to Toronto– our youngest, Sam, is graduating this June with his Master’s in Teaching from OISE– and will likely be up in Canada for the next few years. best, mk

    2. Thanks for this piece. I read it after reading your poem for your dad. Both pieces were very visual to me, and also very emotional.
      Thanks again.

      1. thanks for your kind words Sarah….I’m glad you were able to read them together– and that they moved you. best, mk

  2. You nailed it with this one. How fascinating how poetry can speak of God and heaven in such a way that even those that haven’t yet found a way to believe, believe. Your touch with words is exquisite as is your heart. Thank you.

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