Richard Weiss

He waited, sandwiched between an angular
housewife with a cough and an accountant
whose clothing draped his skeletal frame.
When we first met he was much younger,

bearded, heavily tattooed, dressed in black,
his bulk dwarfing my consultation room,
a school custodian recovering after a painful
divorce from a guitar-playing, nose-pierced wife

who vanished with a literary type. He remarried,
lost her also, from illness, shrank in stature, retired,
worked as a crossing guard, acquired more tattoos,
had another relationship but seemed drained of joy.

Today he sat folded into my office chair, white
sheaves of paper spiking from his pockets,
the product of many consultations. He thrust  
them toward me. I scanned them, already knowing

their bleakness. “What do you think?” he asked.
“I’m sorry. You have no choice. Untreated
you may get worse…rapidly. Chemotherapy
will give you some extra months.”

“Months? Not years?” A barely audible whisper.
He sank deeper into the refuge of his chair.
We talked of the bell-shaped curve. The hope
to be on that skinny end where everything worked.

A heaviness fell between us. He expected more.
Searched for a flicker of hope as I did years ago,
as they charted my wife’s final months.
There was no more then, or now.

About the poet:

Richard Weiss is a retired internist and gastroenterologist living in Armonk, NY. “I have written many poems inspired by my patients’ lives, which I have been privileged to share.” Currently he is studying poetry at the Hudson Valley Writers’ Center with B.K. Fischer and compiling his elegiac poems for publication.

About the poem:

“The parallel between Luca’s struggle with cancer and my wife’s long battle with ovarian cancer catalyzed the writing of this poem. To walk the narrow path between compassion and scientific honesty, honoring both, has been a lifelong challenge–one that I believe the poem illustrates.”

Poetry editors:

Johanna Shapiro and Judy Schaefer

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13 thoughts on “Luca”

  1. In medical practice many physicians are simply observers. Richard interacted and engaged with patients and absorbed their feelings. This is what medical practice should achieve.

  2. The hearts and souls of both doctor and patient are shared in such a poignant way. I look forward to reading more of your outstanding work! Thank you!

  3. Another arrow in your quiver of remarkable achievements:
    Photographer, sailor, fisherman, hunter, cook, world traveller, endoscopist, skier, Bon Vivant and good friend.
    Congratulations, Sir Richard, the man who was hesitant about retiring for fear of nothing to do!

  4. I love this poem. The rhythm, the cadence, the language, the visuals- a snippet of life which is weighted with meaning and emotion. Thank you

  5. This was so powerful. I had an ovarian cancer scare a couple of years ago and found myself in awe of the gyn-oncologist I saw. To this day, I think of him as one of the bravest and most compassionate doctors I’ve ever met. I often wondered what it would be like to have to do what you have so movingly written about.

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