National Poetry Month Intros: Serena Fox’s “The Road to Çegrano, 1999”

May 3, 2010

For the past 13 years I’ve been sending out a poem-a-week email during National Poetry Month. Each week, I introduce a poem to readers on the list, which is now over 300 strong. 

At month’s end, I’m always asked to extend it beyond the month of April.  In lieu of that, I think I’ll publish poems from the series here from time to time, as long as I can get the poets’ permission.

(If you’d like to subscribe to the list for next year, send me an email at greenskeptic[at]gmail[dot]com.)

#

My friend Lee Kravitz — whose memoir, Unfinished Business: One Man’s Extraordinary Year of Trying to Do the Right Things, comes out next month — is a great reader of poetry.

So when he handed me a book of poems at Thanksgiving last year, I knew it would be worth reading.

He told me two things about the book: it was written by another good friend of his and she was an intensive care physician in Washington, DC.

The book was Night Shift by Serena J. Fox.  And one thing you quickly learn from her poems is that Dr. Fox is no Dr. Williams making house calls in a small, northern New Jersey community.  She started her career in the emergency room of Bellevue Hospital in New York City, one of the busiest ERs at the time – the early era of AIDS.

(I had an experience at Bellevue in the early 80s – probably while she was in residence there — involving an attempted suicide by a neighbor. It was not a fun place to be back then.)

As a poet, Fox has an uncanny ability to apply her poetic sensibility to the reality she witnesses through her work.  I admire the way she seamlessly weaves medical terminology – a rare gift that perhaps only Jane Kenyon mastered before her – and the harshness of life as she sees it into a poetry that transcends reportage.

Fox tackles a variety of forms and styles from traditional lyrics to fragments and more experimental sequences.  And she is equally adept at short and long forms — her long poems, including the title poem, “Northeast Coast Corridor,” “Blood Holies,” and “551,880,000 Breaths” are remarkably varied and sustained collages of images and information, stories and voices overheard.

How glad I am that Lee introduced me to her work and pleased that I can introduce a sample of it to you here.

Here is Serena Fox’s poem,

The Road to Çegrano, 1999

(with Patch Adams and Clowns, Skopje, Macedonia)

 

Pinpricks of poppies

Populations

Of them—

 

Supra-oxygenated

Arterial

Oblivious to

 

Camps and tents

Of no interest to

Scythes

 

Unregulated

Flaunting bright

Points in

 

Grass and fields—

The other side of

Fences.

 

In the camps

Children

With blackbird

 

Beak eyes

Scavenge trinkets

Touches

 

Kisses from

Strangers—

A busload of

 

Ferocious

Clown-doctor

Revolutionaries

 

Carrying

Medical

Supplies and

 

Angry

Armloads of

Peace.

 

One-on-one

With the villagers—

Six thousand here

 

Thirty-nine thousand

There—

Dust

 

Is the only

Accumulation—

Rust-colored

 

Covering the tents

And doctors

Without borders.

 

The clown-doctors

Come armed with

Red rubber

 

Noses

Electric-blue hair.

The kids riot for

 

Stickers

Attention.

They quiet for

 

Bubbles

Blown gently

Balloons

 

For the boy

Leg in a

Cast

 

Group photos

Promises to send

Pictures.

 

Thank G’d the

Fighting

Stopped.

 

What would they have

Done in winter

Summer?

 

But where to send

Them?

Back to the

 

Burning?

Over the fence

The fields?

 

Out toward the

Mountains—

Bubbles

 

Balloons

Boys, girls, bombs,

Poppies?

 

–Serena Fox, from Night Shift

(Copyright Serena Fox.  Reprinted with permission of the author)

——————————————————–

Serena sent me this note about the poem: “In May of 1999 I joined Patch Adams for a one-week trip to Macedonia and the refugee camps holding thousands of people who had scaled snow-covered peaks to get out of Kosovo. We were an eclectic assortment of clown-doctors who had traveled with Patch before and others like me who hoped to contribute in some small way to soothing the chaos going on in the former Yugoslavia.

I thought I was going to deliver intravenous supplies and help set up a clinic outside the camps for women. I also ended up roving the camps with children of all ages and forgoing my usual reserve for my first red rubber nose and a blue wig. As usual the people I met gave me infinitely more than I could ever give back. I was impressed by the efficiency and cleanliness of the UN sponsored camp.

The most vivid sensory memory is that of the foothills covered with poppies, women in the fields wielding scythes, the slowing of time and the redness of the poppies which had the exact quality, for me, of arterial blood.”  –SJF

 

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: