Body & Spirit

Body & Spirit is a 32" x 40" poster incorporating some of the verse I wrote during medical school. The works and found images were chosen to illustrate the interplay between the corporeal and the imaginative in the study of medicine.

The poster was originally exhibited at the UCSD School of Medicine's art exhibition, Artisans Amongst Us[sic], on 12 April 1996.

ImageMap - Body & Spirit
Friday Untitled (What's wrong?/What's missing?) December 24, 1992 Untitled (she was magic, and much more) i am become of Earth First Blood

Readable versions of the poems in Body & Spirit:

First Blood

It concentrates at the point of a pin:
A struggling past, an imminent future,
A drop, then 15 cc of trust--
An exchange of low-risk fluids
And you, future colleague (friend?)
Still smile as if it didn't hurt at all.

At the point of a pen it sits,
Poised on the brink of learning
How to hurt to stop the hurt,
How to care when we cannot,
How to answer in a time of need.

Where the pin meets the pen I stare
And wonder how books, lectures, hours, films,
Exams might accomplish such things...
The needle is just metal, but through
Its shiny core flows warm and sticky
Crimson truth

December 24, 1992

Thirty-two times the hour hand made its circular journey
Nineteen hundred twenty the minute;
Over one hundred thousand sweeps of the second.
Between us, you and I, we counted them all,
Far too many to keep track of whether the 6:30 here
Means sunrise or sunset in the far distant outside.
The hands kept their pace while the tubes varied theirs
Coming on at such a rush -- first nitro, then heparin,
Then mycins, Swan-Ganz, Foley, MS, vent, food, Quintin,
Thirteen in all by day two -- then coming off at such a crawl
Following your rising consciousness: "where?" "why?" and finally
"what next?"

The horrible rushing reality gives way to routine: a few chips
Of ice on the parched lips every ten minutes, blood and CO
At four hours, shift change each twelve, dialysis for four
Out of every twenty-four. We counted these minutes together.
Some we did not, like the twelve hours where every ten minutes
I'd count runs of bad contractions: first in pairs, then threes,
Fours, fives, finally a dozen or more. What were you counting
As I cried, thinking we'd come too far to lose it now, clutching
At your wrist and finding, there!, thready evidence that one
In three of the bad ones wasn't so bad after all.

Another night and morning, and we were counting together
Again. We left the twenty-four-hours-busy cocoon for the
Quiet and freedom of just another patient, just another bed,
Not so much attention, visiting hours,
And you learned to eat, to call the nurse, to watch TV.
You tried to walk out, they told me, but could not
So, tired of waiting, you left the only way you could.

i am become of Earth

i am become of Earth.
i was of sky. i looked, and saw far, saw white clouds and golden mountains and blue sky and bluer sea.
but i have become of Earth. i dwell low, and see no farther
than Earth.
i loved, too many and far too well.
i woke and slept and soared on words and on ideas
but now i reach toward the center, toward Her heartbeat, and i feel Her rivers and Her core. from pulses and eyeblinks and breaths and others' words i find my solace and my purpose.
one day, perhaps, i will soar again. but for now i dwell low, in dark caverns and dripping caves, in hearts and minds and bodies, but not in souls.
i am become of Earth.


What's wrong?
What's missing?
We see... smile... touch... talk
About healing, helping, health.
What don't we talk about?
A line that reaches back
From me and you and touches
In a place
Before birth
And reaches forward to a place
Where it will meet again.
Why not say it?
Why not acknowledge what we both hear
But cannot/will not/may not
Believe is shared?
Too fragile. Too soon to flirt
With inevitability --
But too little time
To let it go
Without a word.


Like so many endings, a beginning
Like so many beginnings, an infinite, unknowable space stretches
From here to where?
From here, along a tapestry of knots and tangles, straights and angles
And oh, so many places to make
A wrong or ill-advised turn
I know, I suppose, I shall wind up at the fringy border
Far from where I once began
If some misstep does not detour
To some frayed border or selvage stitched against the ravages of time
At the juncture between now and Monday
Separating me from Someday...
Someday when the mantle on my mind
(Albatross, or something lost, or
Something I've forgotten how to find)
Is lifted to reveal
Knots and tangles, straights and angles
Perfect in their turns from woof to warp,
Unerring in randomly meanders
Revealed as hidden, still. Hidden. Still.
And meaning, any lust for meaning left behind
Back where fringe first knotted
And I, a mighty microscopic insect
Wandered, looking to that other dawn through
Knots and tangles, straights and angles
A day like any other, then it's gone


She was magic, and much more--
A messenger to tell me that that path I was taking
Was wrong, to remind me that living for one other's needs
Is to neglect the entire other world, including myself.
But she is magic no more.

She is real,
No less beautiful, no less a friend
But more a person than a goddess, more
An unknown than an ideal, more,
Perhaps, a danger than a savior.
More risk than respite,
More soul than mate.

Beside me, now,
Is an empty space
Departed twice so soon
Like the one you described but
Newer, fresher, still interesting and alluring
In that way that empty spaces are to those who
Have had too much of fullness.
Like boredom, it is a blessing
And like boredom
It will grow old.

Your empty space
Fascinates me as much as my own:
It whispers alluringly, alarmingly, questioningly.
It is risky to even think it, but it is
One space where I have been
Without fear or torment

Is such a tricky,
Insidious, baffling thing.
Dare I to even daydream about
Toying with those most precious of my
Only true possessions?
I should leave them
Safely, sweetly

Leave them alone
To experience the ocean smell
To rail at idiot policies -- alone
To wonder at beauty and spirit -- alone
To touch the morning light
To heal and fly
Raise children
And die

She was magic, and much more--
But, in fact, she never was. But you
Have helped me heal my hurt a hundred times
Have been truer than family, any other friend,
All lovers excepting you.

I am insane.
Might I touch your empty space
When I am healed sufficient
To touch with grace?
Date created: March 8, 1996
Last modified:
Copyright © 1992-2000 Ron Risley