Grey Matter

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.

Inaugural Issue

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:

Before sleep:
Extension cords for power chair charger. Check.
Charger lights on
Wheelchair plugged in
Piss bottle clipped to rail

To dress: on bed, in sequence:
Compression stockings
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.
Zipper fly.
Lurch back.
(and the shirt, the damned shirt, its fucking cuffs)
To survive, he micromanages:

Affixes the mask.
Makes nice.



Hear me:

I hurt.
I tried.
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 ache.

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

for Laura

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.
Generalized Anxiety.
Ehlers Danlos Syndrome
and possible Mast Cell Disease.”

They are tired.
And hungry
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.

Be patient.
Don’t make a face
when you see how healthy they look –
An athlete. Someone who walked
across an entire country without thought.
Don’t wonder
if you picked up the wrong chart.

But hey,
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

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.

Editorial Board

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.