Martha Carlough ~

In medical school
I learned the particular sensitivity
of the breastbone

The rub of a knuckle
awakens even one deeply asleep
beckoning back to the present moment

Grief has the potential
to show us how cramped–
even deadened–we’ve become

Chest riven with pain
my fingers are now free
to explore the stories

Which have taken up occupancy
engraved like Braille
on the hidden contours of the heart

About the poet:

Martha Carlough is a professor of family medicine and director of the Office of International Activities at UNC/Chapel Hill, NC. She is passionate about safe and gentle childbirth worldwide. “I enjoy teaching in a variety of settings and finding ways to link a love for literature and poetry with the practice of medicine.”

About the poem:

“This poem was written after my brother’s death from colon cancer in April 2016. As a physician, carrying my own grief is a way to connect my own story with my patients’ stories. As David Whyte wrote in ‘What to Remember When Waking,’ ‘To be human is to be visible/while carrying what is hidden/as a gift to others.’ “

Poetry editors:

Johanna Shapiro and Judy Schaefer

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About the Poem


5 thoughts on “Riven”

  1. The word ‘riven’ adds such strength to this Poem. Beautifully written. I’m sorry for your loss Martha.

  2. Ronna Edelstein

    What a beautiful poem! The verse “Grief has the potential
    to show us how cramped–even deadened–we’ve become” especially resonates with me; it captures how I have felt for the past three years four months and nine days since my beloved father died in my arms. I am sorry about your brother, and I wish you the best as you move forward–caring for others and dealing with your own grief.

  3. I read this poem much more literally at first – imaging a physician facing her own mortality after open heart surgery. Perhaps my surgical perspective. Interesting to read her background to the poem and then go back and read it more metaphorically.

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Call for Entries​

Pulse Writing Contest​​

"On Being Different"