First Poetry Portfolio
By Rafael Campo
The tiny silver crucifix she wore
enacted what it seemed we did to her.
She rested in the bed, not at peace yet,
she said, but trying to forgive. The dead
moved quietly around the room, unseen:
last week, a man with liver cancer keened
where she did now, before he passed; and then
another woman whose lymphoma drenched
her in cold sweats, her lymph nodes thick and massed
wherever I had pressed. “Dear Lord,” I said,
attempting what I thought was prayer, “—Lord,
forgive me for not healing them.” Unsaid,
the words of her forgiveness came to me
like kindness, like a sudden memory.
The tiny crucifix refused to bleed;
instead, it shone there like a misplaced need,
a way to understand the blameless night.
Adjusting my ophthalmoscope’s light,
I peered inside her, seeking what we may
of pain. I saw what she had tried to say:
the pulse of blood, the silence of my heart;
forgiveness, not impossible, but hard.
Rafael Campo, M.D., is director of the Office of Multicultural Affairs and the Katherine Swan Ginsburg Humanism in Medicine Program at Beth Israel Deaconess Hospital, as well as author of five books of poetry.