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


Of them—




Oblivious to


Camps and tents

Of no interest to




Flaunting bright

Points in


Grass and fields—

The other side of



In the camps


With blackbird


Beak eyes

Scavenge trinkets



Kisses from


A busload of








Supplies and



Armloads of




With the villagers—

Six thousand here


Thirty-nine thousand




Is the only




Covering the tents

And doctors

Without borders.


The clown-doctors

Come armed with

Red rubber



Electric-blue hair.

The kids riot for




They quiet for



Blown gently



For the boy

Leg in a



Group photos

Promises to send



Thank G’d the




What would they have

Done in winter



But where to send


Back to the



Over the fence

The fields?


Out toward the





Boys, girls, bombs,



–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


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