Poet As Nurse: Nurse as Poet

I have been a nurse and healer for more than four decades as an LPN, RN, FNP, and as a homeopathic physician. (I have also had a lot of other jobs in International Development, as a Peace Corps volunteer, consultant for not-for-profits, co-Founder of Grace Cares, Navy veteran, college professor, and even a stint as a handyman to name a few detours along the way.) This nexus of healer, poet, and peace activist has been the center of my life.

I’ve been poet for all of this time as well. As most poets know, it is vital to have a day job with a lot of flexibility.  Nursing is as second nature to me as walking. I have that empathetic nursing gene. It is not just empathy, but the quality of being present with a person who is ill. In modern medicine, we too often value the tech over that quality of nursing care, it is ideal when those two sides can come together.

When I left the Navy at the end of the Vietnam War, I gained an LPN license. People thought it was very odd that a man was a nurse. In most parts of the world, men are well represented as nurses. I’ve often found that balance between the male and female energy was perfectly expressed in my nursing care.

For decades, I’ve been a performance poet and storyteller, a musician, playwright, and artist. To be truthful, the inconsistent salary of a poet and storyteller is best augmented with a good day job. All poets I know, from the famous on down, always had a day job. The only ones who didn’t were trust-fund babies. Lord Byron, Shelly, and friends were trust fund babies! Even a great poet like W.H. Auden needed to grind away at articles and reviews to make ends meet. My friend the poet Hayden Carruth worked for a time as an orderly at a Psychiatric hospital. Ken Keasey wrote “One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest” while he worked on a Psych hospital.

As a homeopathic physician, I integrated my nursing background with the dynamic skill set of a homeopathic physician. That along with my family nurse practitioner education was invaluable. Though I sometimes wish that I was solely a poet and artist, I managed to find the right balance. When I was working as a nurse on an end-stage AIDS ward in New York City in the early 1990s, the first shift was about 7:30 A.M. I woke up about 4:30 A.M. every day and wrote for two hours. When I got home from work I wrote for another hour to two hours. I wrote the book, Journal of the plague: living and working with AIDS.

My work as a poet/artist/ peace activist is about healing. Healing means to bring into wholeness.  As a poet you endeavor to explicate the world with your understanding and vision.  Too often, the world seems fragmented and disjointed, but the poet gives voice and understanding to the enigma of life, love and all the falls in between. We fail as poets/ artists when we endeavor to be enigmatic.  At our best, poets are Prometheus bring fire and light to humanity.

Healing means mending. Suture is from the word Sutra, to tie and bind together. Healing is weaving together physically materially, and metaphysically. This healing was best articulated in my work with homeopathy. I thoroughly enjoyed being people’s family physician. My life and schedule was flexible enough to write as many poems, plays, and stories as I would like, to travel, and perform.

I spent time yesterday with an elderly friend who is dying. I helped with her nursing care and played my guitar for several hours.  It was a joy to spend time with her and her family.

As a poet, the essence is awareness of the moment, and its interconnectivity. As William Blake wrote in Auguries of Innocence, “To see a World in a Grain of Sand and a Heaven in a Wild Flower Hold infinity in the palm of your hand and Eternity in an hour.”

Poet Nurse/ Nurse Poet- Healer/ Peace Activist – At this stage of my life in my mid-sixties, my task is to incorporate this healing work into my on-going peace arts project. This nexus of healer, poet, and peace activist has been the center of my life.

I believe that as in my homeopathy, the invisible dose of love can transform the world. With the homeopathic dose of love, I believe we can transform the world. Yes, literally, with each act, action, and intention we can transform the world.

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