Body Hunger

Howard Stein

in memory of Ashley Montagu, Touching: The Human Significance of the Skin (1986)

the yearning
to be touched
by hands that mean it
by hands that want to touch

the longing for hands
to release the skin
from solitary confinement
and a sentence of death

About the poet:

Howard F. Stein is professor emeritus in the department of family and preventive medicine, University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center, Oklahoma City, where he taught for nearly thirty-five years. He is now group facilitator with the American Indian Diabetes Prevention Center in Oklahoma City. He has written twenty-eight books, including nine books or chapbooks of poetry. His most recently published poetry book is Raisins and Almonds (2014). A new book of poetry, Light and Shadow, will be published in fall 2016, and he is currently revising and expanding his 1994 book Listening Deeply for University of Missouri Press. His books can be found at Amazon authors.

About the poem:

“Some years ago, a family-medicine resident or faculty member gave me a gentle pat on my forearm, and a wave of gratitude and surprise swept over me. I puzzled over it, wondering how so ordinary an event could be so significant, almost redemptive. I hadn’t realized how hungry for touch I had been, and how the touch had interrupted my sense of isolation. I also remembered hearing that Lynn Carmichael, one of the founders of family medicine, carried a nail clipper with him on hospital rounds and trimmed the toenails of his elderly patients. It sounded to me like a sacrament.”

Poetry editors:

Johanna Shapiro and Judy Schaefer

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15 thoughts on “Body Hunger”

  1. This piece reminded me of an incident when I was a nursing instructor. A student had been taking care of an elderly woman who lived in a nursing home. One day my student gave her patient a really big hug and the patient began to cry. She said that although she was touched often in the process of receiving care, that it had been a very long time since someone had touched her with affection. I’ve never forgotten that and now dispense hugs and other small touches on arms or hands or even the tops of heads whenever I can. And I recognize how much an affectionate touch means to me, too.

  2. Jeff Steinbauer


    Beautiful. Thought provoking. Feeling provoking. Profound. Thanks for always bringing a point of view to healthcare that enriches my life. JEFF

    1. Thank you, Jeff. Our Balint groups and our visits are one of the parts of my life that I most savor. You have greatly enriched my life. Your friend, Howard

  3. Colleen Fogarty

    Howard, this is beautiful! Stand alone poignant, and the comments you provide about the poem illuminate this to yet another level.
    thank you!

    1. Thank you, Colleen. I could have written many pages of “comments” about the numerous contexts that are tributaries to this little poem.

  4. I love the simplicity of this poem. As with most of Howard Stein’s poetry, it’s simplicity is deceptive. For underneath it lies an entire world of other meaning.

    1. You really understand me and my poetry, Marla. Thank you. See you Friday at our Writers’ Group!

    1. Dear Shadi, You have affirmed my life and work so many times, and on so many different occasions. The power of human touch is inversely proportional (?) to the power of its absence. Flourish, my friend!

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