Walking Each Other Home

Allie Gips ~

Winter in New England and
night replaces afternoon, darkness wraps the streets while we are all still inside.
There are no windows in the Emergency Department anyway
except of course the window into this city–the stream of women with bruised arms
and orbits that they will not explain, the revolving door of opiate addicts
nodding off, crying out, praying for forgiveness, the chronic-pain patients who rip
apart all of your idealism and ambition, trade it in for a one-time hit of oxy.
Walking home after a shift
I pass the men wrapped in Goodwill coats and cardboard sipping covertly
on the stairwells, and though one hour ago I would have asked them
How are you what do you need how can I help you
here I am just another woman on the sidewalk and I keep my eyes down,
my mouth shut, my dreams of a better world bottled.
Daylight savings but no one can cash in on sunshine, all this progress and still
I can’t prescribe a warm meal, a June park picnic, a devoted family.
Things I love in this world: coffee in the morning, the cat greeting me
at the front door, the way sheets feel against bare skin, clean fingernails.
There is a picture in my parents’ home
me at age six on career day in kindergarten
red headband, men’s white T-shirt with a felt red cross, toy stethoscope
big smile. I stare at this girl, try to bring her with me when I trudge to work
in darkness, home in darkness, and in between the light is artificial at best
unreachable at worst. Winter in New England with all its sludge
and introspection. With latex gloves I peel back layers
of odor-drenched sweat-stained work shirts, coats,
listen to crackling lungs and labored breathing,
brush my fingers over cold wrists and toes.
Things I love in this world: coffee, the cat greeting me,
heat that I can pay for, a family that loves me,
a safe pillow beneath me, the promise that I
will make it to spring.

About the poet:

Allie Gips, a third-year resident in emergency medicine at Boston Medical Center, was the 2013 winner of the William Carlos Williams Poetry Competition. This is her third poem to appear in Pulse. Her work is also featured in the “EMergence” section of Boston City EM.

About the poem:

“There are two quotes that I think of as my guiding principles in medicine. One is from Rudolf Virchow: ‘Medicine is a social science, and politics is nothing else but medicine on a large scale.’ The other is by Ram Dass: ‘We are all just walking each other home.’ This poem is inspired by both (and also, of course, by Boston winters).”

Poetry editors:

Johanna Shapiro and Judy Schaefer

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7 thoughts on “Walking Each Other Home”

  1. Dr. Lou Verardo

    What a moving and personal reflection, Dr. Gips; I will remember your words as I go to see my own patients. You validate the need we all have for a safe haven for ourselves as we do this work.

  2. I LOVE this poem. It speaks to the everyday–“coffee, the cat greeting me, heat that I can pay for, a family that loves me,
    a safe pillow. . . .”

    Ms. Gipps understands us–all of us, and we can revel in it.
    I look forward to many more of her poems, but meantime,
    I thank her sincerely for this one.

  3. This is an exquisite, moving poem about ruthlessly difficult situations. She really luts me there!

    Today’s haiku is ver good, too.

  4. I so appreciate your writings and insight. And, I too, see the invisible, see the pain that walks our streets. Historically, we have always had poverty and those who are at the bottom. The bottom always exists, as does the top. My question: Why is the bottom still so low and why, in a country with so much, do we tolerate the brokeness of so little. India is honest: everyone expects beggars. It is part of what we know happens. The US is now looking like India. But we lie. Bless you for you a healer whose heart aches for those in front of you.

    1. The poet lets us see her:

      “at age six on career day in kindergarten
      red headband, men’s white T-shirt with a felt red cross, toy stethoscope
      big smile”

      and now, trudging home in the dark, thinking of the small consolations
      she hopes will keep her going until spring:

      “coffee, the cat greeting me,
      heat that I can pay for. . “

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