Soul Searching

Brian T. Maurer

Ply the scalpel, crack the vault;
Peel back the layers, parcel the salt:
Galeal, subgaleal, arachnoid place,
Dura mater, subdural space,
Lobus frontalis, sulcus centralis,
Corpus callosum, fornix, and rostrum,
Hippocampus, choroid plexus,
(Anatomy most sure to vex us)
Ventricles: first, second, third,
Cerebellum, stem and cord.

When we’ve exhausted the entire onion,
Tell me, what’s become of someone?


About the poet:

Brian T. Maurer has practiced pediatric medicine as a physician assistant for the past three decades. As a clinician, he has always gravitated toward the humane aspect of patient care, and for two decades he has explored the illness narrative as a tool to cultivate an appreciation for humane medical care. He has published numerous vignettes, editorials and essays in national and international journals, as well as two books, Patients Are a Virtue and Village Voices. He blogs online at

About the poem:

“Freud wrote that wherever he ventured in his scientific investigations of the mind, he found that a poet had been there first. Modern neuroscience continues to struggle to define the human mind by studying anatomical brain function. It occurred to me that dissecting the human brain is similar to peeling an onion. When the last layer is peeled back, what remains? In particular, where does our humanness lie? The implication is that the human soul can never be discovered in the anatomy lab.”

Poetry editors:

Johanna Shapiro and Judy Schaefer

About the Poem

Share on facebook
Share on google
Share on twitter
Share on linkedin
Share on email


Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

More Poems

Popular Tags
addiction alcohol addiction allergies anatomy lab bedside manner bigotry breast cancer cancer caregiver stories caregiving chemotherapy child abuse childbirth children chronic illness complementary therapies connecting with patients coping with death coping with illness coping with patient death cross-cultural health care cultural competence death and dying death of a parent dementia depression diabetes disability doctor-patient communication doctor-patient relationship doctor as patient doctor poems doctor stories drug addiction end of life end of life decision making faith family medicine forgiveness frustration with healthcare system genetic disorders geriatrics getting the news healing health care policy health care politics health insurance HIV humor ill parent immigration inequality international health labor and delivery leukemia medical errors medical student stories medical training medicine memorable patients mental health mental health professional stories mental illness military medicine miracles miscarriage mistakes neuroscience nurse poems nurse stories ob/gyn palliative care parent stories Parkinson's disease patient-centered care patient poems patient stories pediatrics personal remembrance physician assistant stories poem poems/poetry pregnancy PTSD race realizing human mortality resident stories role modeling self care social determinants of health social issues social worker stories spirituality stress and burnout suicide surgery thanksgiving the bad doctor visuals war veteran
Scroll to Top