About Grey Matter
Grey Matter (GM), the poetry journal of the Narrative Medicine program at the University of Arizona Biomedical campus in Phoenix, believes that poetry is a portal for introspection and reflection, one that connects us more deeply and empathetically to the human experience—in other words, GM is an exemplary application of the Medical Humanities, a discipline that resides at the crossroads of healthcare and human care.
Every issue of GM will strive to represent voices across the healthcare spectrum, from physicians to patients, medical researchers to students, with a focus on equity, inclusion, and the celebration of our unique medical narratives.
Issue 2 (Fall 2022)
by David Chorlton
Its dizzy at the crossroad: look
left, look right, here is traffic
falling through the air, here
a bruise speeding round the bend,
and from across the street
a fracture knowing the precise
place to land.
Now the lanes
are blocked. Life becomes
a detour. No plans are honored
beneath a wounded sun.
What to do, and who
Best to cancel the rest
of the day, leave the double
yellow lines for bad luck
from down the road, red lights
asking which way to go,
and spins to a stop
where a head wound asks
for urgent help.
under control. The transfusion
begins, of replacing memory
with sunlight through a tube.
David Chorlton is a European who calls Phoenix home. He lives near South Mountain and found that a great comfort when he was recovering from an accident. His newest book is “Poetry Mountain,” which contains much of what took his attention in his surroundings while getting better.
Is there Tequila in Heaven?
by Kat Hofland
There are no true calculations made in the face of death. Her pulse’s accelerated flutter was visible through the thin pallor of her neck. By the time she made it to hospice, her body was reduced to bones – the muscle-eating disease left her in an ascetic state she loathed, even if only because she didn’t choose it this time. I read her Mary Oliver poems and prayed the words penetrated the fog of the morphine. The room remained dark all day, but the music we played always varied in pace, and turned joyous when we snuck in a bottle of tequila; she enjoyed just a few sips of that magic elixir in the days before she died. There were three of us who sat vigil, who documented the process of her decay. We were semi-new to each other, and lucky to have others to bond to as the rest of the world kept on in its usual form. These are the traces of an unusual circumstance, the kind that can’t be conveyed in full, the kind that can only be held in the chest with the hope that over time the brutality will pass.
Kat Hofland is a writer based out of Phoenix, Arizona. She is a co-founder of Rinky Dink Press, and her work has been featured in Light, Little Somethings Press, Insight II, and High Shelf Press.
Hospice Care for the Homeless
by Derek Roof
I cared for a man
who’d shit himself in the night
he’d drunk his belly into a moon,
a knotted and cratered satellite
orbiting a spine—the kind
of dead, fat rock that only
a dead liver can make.
I cared for him—
washed his clothes, fed him,
checked on him when he shit
himself in the night.
I watched him—naked
the dead earth of him
walking, hobbling peaked stomps,
carrying himself to the shower,
holding that moon in his arms
because, though the dead
weight of it, pain of it,
crushes out his shit and piss,
chokes his lungs, that moon
is all the death of him.
His earth is hit and broken,
his gravity sorting out the pieces.
He clutches his death
because it’s more than him now. He’s
bones and it’s fluid. He’s loose skin
and it’s taut.
I looked him in his eyes,
but couldn’t hold it.
He said he didn’t need
anything, standing in the shower.
I can’t look at his belly
while he’s looking at me.
His genitals are black.
I turn away, get him some towels.
How can I tell you that I cared for him,
cared for his death, that I know
I’ve said dead, or death
too many times
in this poem
because I’m trying to say
my dad is dead. dead
the way the man who shit
himself is dead.
Same moon, stretched with death
though dad’s was smooth with thin
skin that could pop. Not bombarded,
calloused, like earth’s moon
who’d lived in the streets.
I cared for him.
I knew his dead body.
I had held my hand on its chest
bones to feel its not-breathing.
I put the towels on the shower chair,
told him I’d burned his death,
mouthed along with prayers,
for his ash,
imagining there’s a heaven
for him and everyone else.
Shower spray drowned out my words.
I stood outside the curtain
and listened for a fall.
Derik Roof studied poetry at Arizona State University and works in Human Services, primarily serving the unhoused and recently housed out of chronic homelessness. He taught Poetry to incarcerated individuals at Arizona Department of Corrections, Florence, South Unit, as part of the ASU Prison Education Project, for two and half years, before COVID prevented entry into the prisons. He has served as poetry editor for Iron City Magazine which primarily publishes the work of incarcerated individuals. More of Derik’s work can be found in the upcoming issue of The Oakland Review, as well as previous issues of Four Chambers and Write on Downtown.
Inaugural Issue (Spring 2022)
The inaugural issue of GM is pleased to feature the work of a caregiver, a patient, and a student-patient—Dorothy DiRenzi, Bryan Hall, and Raena Raebel respectively. We hope you’re as moved by their medical stories as we are. View the recording of the inaugural event here.
by Dorothy DiRienzi
Attention. Attention must be paid.
~Arthur Miller, “Death of a Salesman”
There’s the dropping of things—impossible
to retrieve from the wheelchair—
or the crutch-tips losing purchase
on a wet tile floor.
Then comes his dis-assembling,
like a high-rise crane,
suddenly toppling down scaffolds.
There is no grace in mopping up
dignity spattered bare.
Some days go wrong from the waking—
I linger, then, in bed,
shutting out his brace thudding
and his chest pitching.
Retreat into a nubbin, a nut
palmed hard. Burrow
down into blankets,
his fury flung far.
Stanch the pain.
Tie off shame.
This cut goes deep.
I pirouette on eggs.
We lift in increments—
floor to stepstool, stepstool to chair,
chair to wheelchair.
Fade to gray.
My back torqued,
my shoulder frayed.
He builds his day in 15,000 easy steps:
Extension cords for power chair charger. Check.
Charger lights on
Wheelchair plugged in
Piss bottle clipped to rail
To dress: on bed, in sequence:
Lean left, pull. Lean right, adjust.
Sneaker right, sneaker left.
Pitch over to wheelchair.
Lock onto far armrest.
Lunge to seat.
Brace shoe on footpedal strap.
(and the shirt, the damned shirt, its fucking cuffs)
To survive, he micromanages:
Affixes the mask.
I cannot do this for you.
It is too heavy.
It is too hard.
It costs too much.
I cannot make it work for you.
I am tired.
I am old.
I too am afraid.
Dorothy DiRienzi has published in numerous literary journals in print and online. She worked as a manuscript editor and indexer of medical and nursing textbooks in Philadelphia for 30 years and then as editor/publisher of policy manuals for Arizona State University for 15 years. She lives in Phoenix with her son, Cesare, and her dog.
by Bryan Hall
She wants me to be tattooed with her.
Get something meaningful, she says.
I keep reminding her that I already
have three blue dots running vertically
down my torso from my ribcage to my pelvis –
remnants of a map guiding the robotic arm
that once hovered over me, infusing my body
with what they called a cure. She tells me
those modest brandings don’t count.
Apparently neither artistic expression or
valid self-image include marks left behind
by cancer treatments. Their meaning is
fully lost on her. Each is a banner of survival;
of triumph. So I ignore her goading and
repeat my assurances: The three dots I wear
have been earned and define me more clearly
than any original design could hope to.
Bryan Hall is a wheelchair-bound, chronically asthmatic cancer survivor with spina-bifida and a B.A. in Communication from Arizona State University. He was an assistant editor for the poetry journal Merge and has been a contributing member of the local writing community in such roles as workshop co-facilitator for Phoenix Poetry Series, co-host of First Friday Poetry in Heritage Square, and an outlying member of Arizona State Poetry Society. He has published two chapbooks to date, Walks on Wheels and Corners of Everywhere. In 2021, his micro-collection, The Master of Collapse, was published by rinky dink press.
by Raena Raebel
They are not a chart
They are not:
“21-year-old female, history of
repeated dislocation, hypermobility,
heart arrhythmia. PTSD and ADHD.
Ehlers Danlos Syndrome
and possible Mast Cell Disease.”
They are tired.
because bloodwork may
need to be taken.
They are overstimulated
by the fluorescent light
flickering in the corner –
because someone forgot
to put in a repair ticket.
They hate the paperwork
and will need to take notes
as you speak. Try to translate
the medical terms into
something they’ll understand.
Don’t make a face
when you see how healthy they look –
An athlete. Someone who walked
across an entire country without thought.
if you picked up the wrong chart.
at least they have good veins
so that’s one less thing
you have to worry about.
Raena Raebel is a senior studying Health Care Compliance and Regulations at Arizona State University. They got their start in the creative arts by watching slam poetry, but only started writing this past summer. Their preferred writing topics include love poems to historical figures, relationships, and things their mother would much rather they keep private. When they’re not studying or at one of their two jobs, they can be found coddling the plant collection that’s slowly taking over their dorm or aggressively reminding their friends to take care of themselves.
Submissions are welcome from all members of the healthcare community (patients included). Before submitting, please review our submission categories and interests:
- Recognition and Healing: poems that reflect on and recognize the emotional effects surrounding our medical/health experiences
- Life As It Is: poems that analyze and explore the current human condition through a medical lens
- Insight and Renewal: poems that anticipate what the future holds for humanity and medicine
How to Submit
- Submit no more than 3 poems or one prose piece in any category.
- Please include a brief, third-person bio (100 words or less) with your submission.
- Poems/prose can be previously published; all rights revert to the author upon publication.
- Submissions are accepted on a rolling basis at firstname.lastname@example.org
To better understand the role that poetry plays in physician (and patient) wellness, we recommend this excellent article by Dr. Johanna Shapiro.
We also encourage you to read this cento (i.e. collage poem) composed by our faculty editor, Rosemarie Dombrowski, using lines from various poem by Dr. Rafael Campo.
You can also view a reading of the cento by medical teachers and mentors, which was produced for the MED Gala 2022 and dedicated to their third-year residents.
Founding Editor: Meher Rakkar
Faculty Editor: Dr. Rosemarie Dombrowski
Assistant Editor: Shiv Shah
GM is proudly supported by the Narrative Medicine program, which is directed by Dr. Jennifer Hartmark-Hill.