My Cousin Jim

In remembrance

Once again as an extended family we find ourselves gathered together in this place to celebrate and remember the life of a loved one: my cousin Jim.

Jim passed away a year and a week after the death of his beloved spouse Diana, and nearly a year after the passing of his mother, our Aunt Jean. That year, I’m sure, was a difficult one for Jim. Not only did he continue to work in his profession as a dentist; he also continued to receive treatments for his cancer, which had spread to his bones. At the same time I’m certain that he entered a period of extended mourning. Such milestones are not easy for any human being to bear.

We exchanged several e-mails over the course of this past year. In one I asked Jim how he managed to keep himself together. I recall his reply: “by deep faith.” In the end it was his faith that got him through.

As I read through Jim’s obituary, one line stood out. “Many of his patients, family and friends knew and loved him for his gentleness and compassion.” That one line brought a smile to my face.

In a telephone conversation this past week, my mother related to me how my cousin Jim provided dental care for my Aunt Poll and Uncle Skip over the course of the 29 years that he practiced general dentistry. Jim refused to accept any monetary payment from them, although he welcomed my Aunt Poll’s apple pies as a token of appreciation for services rendered. I also learned that Jim provided pro bono dental care to countless children whose families were too poor to afford it.

My cousin Jim suffered quite a bit in his life, particularly over the course of these past several years. But it seems as though he succeeded in spinning his suffering into a tapestry of sorts: a tapestry of gentleness and compassion for his patients, his family and his friends.

My cousin Jim took upon himself the yoke of a wounded healer. He used his pain and suffering to create and disseminate a little bit of goodness and love in this world.

That, to me, will be my cousin Jim’s legacy.

Thirteen ways of encountering a blackbird

Wallace Stevens walk I


At The Hartford in Hartford
I inquire if one can park on campus
For the Wallace Stevens walk.
The gate guard directs me to
The visitors’ lot.


On foot I set out
Beneath the burning sun,
Pausing at the first station
Of the eye of the blackbird
To consult the map.


The second station is guarded
By a black wrought-iron fence,
The granite marker bearing
Wallace’s words
A prisoner of the Asylum.


Between verse two and three
I turn to consider
The swaying hips
Of a golden-shod finely braided woman
Sauntering along the sidewalk.


Insignia orange vested workers
Weed-wack the Gengras Center fence.
One wipes his weeping brow
And tips a broadbilled cap.


At Woodland I touch the steel button
And wait for the small white man
To make his appearance.
Three laughing nurses
Navigate the corner.


Suddenly, the demeanor of the neighborhood changes.
Spacious Georgian mansions populate the landscape.
In submission Asylum twists and rolls over
On its belly.


At Scarborough the chiseled words
Are cast in shadow —
The shadow of blackbirds.


Black-bearded men,
ID badges dangling from their belts,
Saunter by with vacant stares.


Three stout women
Step lively to the edge of Woodside,
Abruptly turn,
and retrace their circular path.


At Terry and Westerly Terrace
Stevens’ stone words lie mute,
Caressed by black-eyed Susans.


A small grey poodle squats
On the grassy bank beneath young trees.
His widebrimmed owner
Waves with a smile.


Number 118:
A white house with black shutters.
Stevens’ snow-covered mountain;
The forlorn feather of a blackbird
Cast aside on the cracked sidewalk.


Wallace Stevens walk XIV

The Art of Medicine: Moments without an ICD-10 code

Cellphone conversations during medical encounters turn me off; ofttimes I seethe beneath my carefully orchestrated demeanor. But somehow this time it’s different. more»

Interested readers can now access my latest Art of Medicine column — Moments without an ICD-10 code — recently published in the Journal of the American Academy of Physician Assistants.

Please note that all of my previously published Art of Medicine pieces can now be accessed here.


High overhead grey clouds swirl;
Off to the north a lemon sky forms.
Distant thunder rumbles, rumbles again.

Our terrier paces up and down the porch,
Then freezes before my wife,
Panting in panic.
Stooping down, she gathers
The shaking puppy in her arms,
Holds her close,
Strokes her wire-wicker face,
Whispers canine caricias in her ear.
Thunder rumbles overhead;
The puppy trembles in my wife’s arms.

Suddenly, rain descends,
Slapping the street in torrents—
A cloudburst of summer tears.

Summer storm

Those who contemplate the beauty of the earth find reserves of strength that will endure as long as life lasts. —Rachel Carson

The weather held off until I got home.

As I sat secluded in my office drafting a letter, the rains came, slowly at first, then falling with force, pummeling the back porch roof. Lightning flashed; thunder clapped. I worked feverishly, finished, and powered down the computer. Downstairs, my wife was placing platters of food on the table: sausage, scalloped potatoes, carrots. Soon my son’s SUV pulled into the driveway. We sat down to a nice meal and ate in silence.

Afterwards, we retired to the front porch to watch the storm pass overhead. “The clouds are so low they’re touching the treeline,” my son said. We looked up to see a jumbo jet rise above the far hills and sweep across the grey sky, then disappear into the fog.

Finally, off to the north the clouds began to break up, revealing a sliver of blue. Gradually, the rain tapered off and the blue splintered, bursting into a wide expanse above our heads, while off to the east a curious white wispy cloud drifted across a backdrop of yellowish grey. Suddenly, the feathered edges caught the rays of the evening sun, glowing vermilion.

The dog’s nose twitched between the spindles of the balustrade. We too sensed the clear cool air, drawing it down into our innermost parts — a cleansing coolness, clear shining after rain.