Brick Road Poetry Press

poetry made to entertain, amuse, and edify

The mission of Brick Road Poetry Press is to publish and promote poetry that entertains, amuses, edifies, and surprises a wide audience of appreciative readers.  We are not qualified to judge who deserves to be published, so we concentrate on publishing what we enjoy. Our preference is for poetry geared toward dramatizing the human experience in language rich with sensory image and metaphor, recognizing that poetry can be, at one and the same time, both familiar as the perspiration of daily labor and as outrageous as a carnival sideshow.

Poetry by Richard M. Berlin from Practice


Playing God in the Hospital


A fly buzzes

black complaints

at the glass.


Drawn by sunlight

reflected off snow,

it is trapped


without design

to know another way.

My pager calls


code blue.

And for no reason

at all


I lift the window

and blow a little life

back into the world.




Between Reason and Panic


One minute she’s breathing room air

and the next you’re barking orders

at a team wheeling in a crash cart.

You review signs and symptoms you missed,

the rough rhythm of her heart before she coded.

You want to believe your reasoning

was as elegant as a glass filled with cabernet,

and you want to forget the bottle you imagine

rests on a tray table at forty thousand feet,

ready to tumble when the captain announces

the plane is diving for an unscheduled stop.

But I don’t need images of air disasters

to convince you doctors live

somewhere between reason and panic:

just flip open a laryngoscope, visualize

the vocal chords, and forget you have

fifteen seconds to thread in the tube before

the breathless body on the bed turns blue.


A Lobsterman Looks at the Sea


His new hip healed in, we’re working

on a bluff, talking doctors and health care

reform as we shove a new propane tank into place. 

A shape on the surface catches his eye:

“Right whale,” he says, but I can only see

endless swells rolling in from the east.

He points out the gradations of gray

and green that mark deep ledge, the tide’s

shape along the islands and rocks,

the whale’s glistening back suddenly in focus.

I react with the same surprise

my patients feel when I observe

what they can’t see—

a sudden shift in gaze, or a crease in a cheek,

understanding how a doctor becomes

like a man who has spent sixty years

on a lobster boat, watching the world

swim fast and shining, right before his eyes.


“Spring and All,” Revisited


—after William Carlos Williams


By the road home from the general hospital

under the surge of the pink

towering clouds drifted from the

southwest—a warm wind.  Beyond, the

edge of a mountain pond, redwings

on bulrush calling out their claims,


circle of black water

the veil of thin ice, receding


All along the road, the same reddish

purplish, forked, upstanding twiggy

stuff of bushes you saw years ago


Damp and buzzing, spirited

spring awakens—


Pickerel feed in the shallows, 

skunk cabbage on the shore unfolds

brownish-purple and mottled-green,

shell-like and hot

around the knob of tiny flowers,

above them, a great blue

heron, sharply waiting


And I think of you, Doc Williams

stopping by the road to the contagious

hospital that morning, standing in a

cold Jersey wind

before the rush of nurses in starched

uniforms and white-winged

caps, your patients with diseases

I’ll never see, like the ferocious

little girl with diphtheria in “The Use of Force”


Right now I’m a hundred and fifty

miles from the waste of your broad

muddy fields, the end

of a day with dementia and AIDS,

headed home to re-define

the objects in my world—

raw knuckles of red

rhubarb breaking the earth’s clay crust,

sawed-off apple limbs expecting fire,

sticky-swollen horse chestnut buds,

tips sharpened to stingers aimed at the sky,

all around, the grass a rumor of green


Looking Like a God


“What do your patients see when they look at you?  They see a God!”

—Robertson Davies


The trouble with looking like a God

becomes clear after we learn to wear

our mask of omnipotence, pretending

to know the answers to questions

as small as a milligram and as large

as death.  Joan Osborne wrote a song

about meeting God on the subway,

just another rumpled, gray commuter

without a seat, grasping the overhead rail.

And I believe I met him today

at the general store, seated behind

the counter, sipping coffee, Mozart

on the radio, his expression like mine

when I shuffle papers piled on my desk. 

I ask where to find a flyswatter,

but he doesn’t have a clue, and he can’t

tell me when the eggs will be in

or the price of the Times.  At peace

with his ignorance, he smiles before he

lifts the paper cup to his lips, the light

in his eyes forgiving my questions,

like a God.


Lazy Birder


Dawn is at five, but I sleep past nine,

not caring if I miss a few warblers

flying home for summer.  I was a lazy

med-student, too, hated to see sunrise

before surgery rounds, didn’t choose

to stay awake all night to learn

the differential diagnosis for belly pain.

But I was never lazy with my love

for patients and their stories,

the way they appeared at the ER

without warning, like the pair

of cedar waxwings in my apple trees

suddenly back from the tropics,

elegant black masks, stylish crests,

and that fiery red wing patch

even a lazy birder can’t help but notice.


The Page Turner


stands heron-still, flexed,

fully alert, focused on the music,

her hand a burst of wind

tossing a white sheet.

While the spotlight admires

the soloist’s passion, I love

the page turner even more,

remembering the thrill

of starting at the bottom—

tracking labs, holding  retractors,

the lowest rung a badge of honor,

all the confidence earned when

we learn to accept our place.


The Intern’s Spot


We teach every intern how to find

the place where they can lay down

a silver stethoscope and listen

to everything that matters at once—

the heart hammering in its hollow,

air charging the lungs, the bowel’s

borborygmi, all the body’s music

in an instant, as if the intern

had flicked a radio’s power switch,

diagnosis nailed tight at 2 AM

when all anyone wants is the right

answer and a few hours sleep. 

There is pleasure for us, too,

the teachers who pass down secrets

our professors shared long ago,

like advice from a loving parent,

like the translation of a sacred text,

or the last sun-bleached page

ripped from a lifeboat’s survival kit.


Takotsubo Cardiomyopathy


I’m reviewing a left ventriculography

from a man with chest pain, MI ruled out,

his wife dead for a post-crash hour.

The scan shows his cardiac apex

bulging with each beat, shaped

like a takotsubo, an octopus trap

a Japanese cardiologist recalled

from his childhood fishing village, 

the scan just another broken heart’s

beaten down story of futility and resilience. 

I will say, “I am sorry for your loss,”

explain the image, reassure him

his heart muscle will recover in a week,

all the time wishing I could hug him

with eight strong arms instead of two.




One more mouth

rimmed in charcoal

after an OD

screams for release,

to let her search

for the man who left her.

No one fakes

an interest—at 4 AM,

it’s too late to care.

She bolts toward the ER door

and we herd her like a cat.

Without medicine

for this kind of pain,

I sit beside her

on the gurney

and we stare

at the first gray edge

of light that separates

mountain from sky.

In the collapse of time,

we breathe in silence,

rhythms synchronized

in twilight sleep.


I touch her arm

and hear myself say,

“It hurts so much

to lose someone you love.”

She pours out a story

sad and familiar

as a country song,

our shapes in the window

reflecting like hope in new light.

I start to pull back,

warm and distant

as the rising sun.


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