By Jacob M. Appel


Frayed white coat slack around your girth,
pockets lumped with tuning fork, reflex hammer,
corned beef sandwich cloaked in wax paper,
you might have been the cheese man
at the A&P, not our virtuoso neurologist,
and when you harangued the medical students
that first morning—or, at least, the first morning
our paths clashed—opposite the elevator bay,
eager minds a-huddle, sponging for wisdom,
I listened to you rail against polio vaccination,
the pernicious influence of fluoridated water,
Marxist conspiracies behind zip codes,
and until that benighted open grin suffused
your leonine features, I too shared the fear
that, in escaping the psych ward, you’d
clubbed the real Dr. Forrest to oblivion.

Now you’re dead.  Not a friend, hardly
a colleague—merely a fellow physician
with whom I shared a sporadic patient,
an occasional joke.  Yet unearned grief
pools like blood in my throat.  So much life
squandered on lukewarm associations:
the tonsured clerk in the post office,
our shank-eyed receptionist, Uncle Saul.
they vanish and the space fills quickly.
how few leave a lasting hole in the ether


Jacob M. Appel is a physician and writer based in New York City.  His latest novel is The Mask of Sanity.  More at:


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