Prison Break

Jack Coulehan

I eavesdrop on the cells in your brain,
which are trying to bust out of a prison
surrounded by broken connections.

They make an almost inaudible hum
beneath mechanical whooshes and pings
surrounding your hospital bed. I listen

while sitting with your hand in mine,
not comforted by the confusion
of intensive care–I know your brain

is scheming, despite these machines
and my heartache, to escape. Its intention
is clear–get out while there is still time.

Some of the doctors say, She’s young and strong.
Do the tunnelers in your brain hear them?
I eavesdrop–the messages you send are thin

and receding. There must be a billion
routes to escape your prison
and each one takes you away from me.

About the poet:

Jack Coulehan is a poet, physician and medical educator whose work appears frequently in medical journals and literary magazines. His sixth collection of poetry, The Wound Dresser, selected by former poet laureate Robert Pinsky as a finalist for the 2016 Dorset Prize, was published this summer by JB Stillwater. In 2012 he received the Nicholas Davies Award of the American College of Physicians for “outstanding lifetime contributions to the humanities in medicine.”

About the poem:

“For decades I’ve observed unresponsive patients in ICUs, and their distraught friends and family members. I’ve wondered about the mystery of human consciousness. Despite the advances of neuroscientists, no one has any idea how electrochemical reactions create a self, an interior life. In this poem I imagine myself confronting this mystery in someone I love.”

Poetry editors:

Johanna Shapiro and Judy Schaefer

About the Poem


4 thoughts on “Prison Break”

  1. Warren Holleman

    I love the poem–it allows me to eavesdrop on the cells of Jack Coulehan’s brain, which goes places I want to go and sees things I want to see. Thanks!

  2. What a wonderful, wonderful poem!

    We are getting closer and closer, I guess, to solving some of the mysteries engaging Dr. Coulehan–OR ARE WE?

    I wish he would write a long prose piece in addition to his poetry, just so we could follow the exquisite meandering of his lovely brain.

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