6/23/21 Special Event


You are invited to a special event hosted by Columbia University’s narrative medicine’s community Wednesday, June 23, 7:00-8:30pm Eastern.

Ginny Drda and Tony Errichetti will co-facilitate a group of narrative medicine faculty, program graduates, simulationists and other professionals in an exercise in co-constructing alternative scenes to Joy Cutler’s monologue about her kidney transplant My Beshert, or the Curse of the Stolen Potatoes.”

Joy Cutler is a Philadelphia-based SP, performer and playwright.
To register for this event: https://tinyurl.com/xterf6kr

6/9/21 Workshop – A Poem by Thom Gunn

In Trust by Thom Gunn

You go from me

In June for months on end

To study equanimity

Among high trees alone;

I go out with a new boyfriend

And stay all summer in the city where

Home mostly on my own

I watch the sunflowers flare.


You travel East

To help your relatives.

The rainy season’s start, at least,

Brings you from banishment:

And from the hall a doorway gives

A glimpse of you, writing I don’t know what,

Through winter, with head bent

In the lamp’s yellow spot.


To some fresh task

Some improvising skill

Your face is turned, of which I ask

Nothing except the presence:

Beneath white hair your clear eyes still

Are candid as the cat’s fixed narrowing gaze

—Its pale-blue incandescence

In your room nowadays.


Sociable cat:

Without much noise or fuss

We left the kitchen where he sat,

And suddenly we find

He happens still to be with us,

In this room now, though firmly faced away,

Not to be left behind,

Though all the night he’ll stray.


As you began

You’ll end the year with me.

We’ll hug each other while we can,

Work or stray while we must.

Nothing is, or will ever be,

Mine, I suppose. No one can hold a heart,

But what we hold in trust

We do hold, even apart.


Reflective writing prompt: Write about something held in trust

5/19/21 Workshop – A Poem by Rita Dove

Pedestrian Crossing, Charlottesville by Rita Dove

A gaggle of girls giggle over the bricks
leading off Court Square. We brake

dutifully, and wait; but there’s at least
twenty of these knob-kneed creatures,

blond and curly, still at an age that thinks
impudence is cute. Look how they dart

and dither, changing flanks as they lurch
along—golden gobbets of infuriating foolishness

or pure joy, depending on one’s disposition.
At the moment mine’s sour—this is taking

far too long; don’t they have minders?
Just behind my shoulder in the city park

the Southern general still stands, stonewalling us all.
When I was their age I judged Goldilocks

nothing more than a pint-size criminal
who flounced into others’ lives, then

assumed their clemency. Unfair,
I know, my aggression—to lump them

into a gaggle (silly geese!) when all
they’re guilty of is being young. So far.

Reflective writing prompt: Waiting impatiently.

4/21/21 Workshop – Two Readings from “13 Suits: A Mother’s Monologues”

First Christmas: A Paradox


Christmas tree… decorated by neighbors and friends. Christmas cards… not sent… sympathy cards received. Christmas decorations… a garland of tears… wreaths with red bows… in a cemetery.

Christmas lights… offer only shadows in my darkness. Christmas music… mocking me, making me cry…I am out of tissues.

Christmas flowers… funeral arrangements refusing to die. Christmas cookies… made by sweet mothers.

Christmas candles… will be lit in church with a prayer… in memory.

Christmas dinner… that was a joke takeout pizza on paper plates.

Oh but the Christmas gift for Maura… Patrick’s gold chain… links to his love for his sister.

Christmas gift for Patrick… bought before… given to his


Christmas gifts for Michael, Jenni, the grandkids…

exchanged with melancholy.

He will “Be Home for Christmas… only in my dreams.”

On St. Nicholas Day… when we celebrate generosity and compassion.

“Through the years, we all will be together.”

No. We won’t.

Year after year my family will not be together.

My emotions are too fragile…I am too fragile to go to church much less sing festive hymns about ‘Joy to the World’ and ‘Come All Ye Faithful.’ Christmas Mass would only add to my heartache.

I cry by myself in the bathroom so nobody will hear my despair.

Merry Christmas. No. No it is not.

I’m just trying to get through this endless day… pretending with forced fake smiles for the benefit of my grandkids.

I think they know of my charade.

Tragedy, loss and sadness are the lyrics of my life during

what should be the “most wonderful time of the year”…

As the world waits for peace on earth to be born once more…

my son died. Alone.

May he now “sleep in heavenly peace,” singing forever among

the heralding angels.


Reflective writing prompt: Write about the lyrics in your life


New Year’s Eve – One Year Later

I can’t believe it has been a year without my son,

days threaded together on a calendar of heartache,

I know this year will be anything but happy.

Friends hover close,

keeping me company, easing my endless sorrow.

I will share dinner with my close circle – Italian food, did you know it was his favorite?

For me eating has become merely mechanical.

Only grace sustains me

in these deep trenches of anguish that seem without end.

My New Year resolve is to do

what I need to do to care for my shattered self,

or else, I will surely die from the grief cascading through me.

Early bedtime, covered with his New England Patriots blanket,

tossing and turning, praying, crying, tormented until sleep overcomes my

perennial exhaustion.

When I wake in tangled up covers, greeted by glimmers of morning hope

I know I made it through one more haunted night,

while the enormity of an entire new year beckons before me.

Another year without my son,

days threaded together on a calendar of heartache

will be anything but happy.


Reflective writing prompt: Write about what sustains you



4/7/21 Workshop – A Poem by Ada Limón

Instructions on Not Giving Up

by Ada Limón

More than the fuchsia funnels breaking out
of the crabapple tree, more than the neighbor’s
almost obscene display of cherry limbs shoving
their cotton candy-colored blossoms to the slate
sky of Spring rains, it’s the greening of the trees
that really gets to me. When all the shock of white
and taffy, the world’s baubles and trinkets, leave
the pavement strewn with the confetti of aftermath,
the leaves come. Patient, plodding, a green skin
growing over whatever winter did to us, a return
to the strange idea of continuous living despite
the mess of us, the hurt, the empty. Fine then,
I’ll take it, the tree seems to say, a new slick leaf
unfurling like a fist to an open palm, I’ll take it all.

Reflective writing prompt: Write about what gets to you.

3/24/21 Workshop – A Poem by Simon J. Ortiz

Storming Toward a Precipice

A diesel freight truck
roars toward us.
A precipice is no mirage
for its metal plunge.
It is headlong nevertheless.
“It carries its own storm,”
I say dryly, feeling
my tongue wet my lips.
Trapped steel storming,
the faint line just so,
just inches
just split time,
just nothing more
than luck keeps us alive.
The mirage of metal storming
is a precipice, no mirage.

Reflective writing prompt: Write about a time you dodged a bullet.




3/10/21 Workshop – A Poem by Meg Day


Another Night at Sea Level

– Meg Day

On the third day, I wrote to you

about the sky, its elastic way

of stretching so ocean-wide

that the only way to name it

was to compare it to Montana’s.

Lately, the sky is a ceiling

I wake to: broad & blank

& stubborn, stiff at the edges

like a fever cloth wrung out

& gone cold in the night, damp

with the wicking of latent ache.

But tonight I was walking

home along the coastline

& caught the huge moon

in my throat. There’s a man

somewhere on the planet

who has been to that moon,

who has stepped out of that sky,

& will never sleep the same

because of it. Will always be

sad or feel small, or wonder

how it is a person can be

a person, if being a person

is worrying about things;

whose eyes cannot see

what things are, but only

the slightness of them.

I think of writing to you

in this way—welcoming

the adventure of it—

& of being wrecked

Reflective writing prompt: Write about a time you welcomed an adventure

2/25/21 Workshop – Live Reading by Joy Cutler

My Beshert, or the Curse of the Stolen Potatoes (an excerpt) 

By Joy Cutler

It started on my 38th birthday. It’s raining buckets. It’s raining cats and dogs. It’s raining so hard that it’s raining buckets of cats and dogs. It’s also the day I have an appointment with a nephrologist to find out when I have to start dialysis. I might be the most pissed off person in New York City.

Coming out of the subway station I battle with my umbrella, the rain and wind join forces to attack my defenseless body, which is no way to treat the BIRTHDAY GIRL! Fuckshitgoddamnit!! My crappy black umbrella turns inside out, flips over and tries to escape down W. 66th St like a crow with a broken wing. When I catch up with it I wrestle it down to the ground and smack its pointy end on the sidewalk to teach it a lesson. Thwack! By the time I find the dialysis clinic I’m a sopping wet mess. The clinic is in the same building as the Alvin Ailey Dance Company’s rehearsal studios. As I soggily squelch my way towards the dialysis entrance I see gorgeous, young dancers smoking cigarettes while standing under a bouquet of colorful well-behaved umbrellas, their hands held in elegant poses as they talk. A dancer pliés as she smokes, her fuchsia umbrella bobbing up and down. Another dancer grabs his right foot and in one quick movement, swoosh!, lifts his leg above his head holding the pose as he exhales. They’re so damn perfect. I hope they all get emphysema.

(shouts) ”Don’t you know you’re mortal, you stupid idiots?”

No, I am not in a good mood.

I push the elevator button. When the elevator arrives an older guy in workman overalls gets on with me. He watches as I push “B” for the basement.


I can’t believe he’d ask me something so personal, but I tell him the truth, “Not yet.”

The elevator lets out an arthritic groan and continues its painfully slow descent. Silence. My elevator companion pipes up.

“Hey, I just did a plumbing job at Charlton Heston’s apartment. And you know what? He’s a very nice person.”

In a voice as flat as a flattened flatworm I say, “That’s fantastic news. (big sigh) It’s my birthday today.”

I don’t know why I tell him that.

The elevator lets out a terrifying belch and stops. The door opens. I can see tired-looking dialysis patients lying on recliners with what looks like red tubing between each person’s arm and the churning squat machine next to them. Oh. Right. The tubing isn’t red, that’s their blood flowing towards the machine. Gross.

My elevator companion waves as I step out. “Happy birthday! And good luck!”

If the door hadn’t closed right then I’d have grabbed the screwdriver off his tool belt and thrown it at his head. Happy birthday my ass. This has to be the worst birthday of my entire life. Even though my kidneys are trying really hard to keep up with all their jobs, I’m exhausted. Lab tests confirm what my body knows already– walking more than a few blocks makes it hard to breathe, I’ve got anemia because my bone marrow stopped making enough red blood cells, my brain feels fogged in, it’s hard to sleep, my blood pressure is elevated and I hardly pee anymore which is just plain weird. I would love to hate this disease for doing this to my faithful kidneys, but I just can’t. Alport Syndrome is a part of who I am and I can’t hate it without hating myself too and I have enough crap to deal with without that. Right now I want to turn around, go home and watch Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood where no one has dying kidneys. I want Fred Rogers to wrap me up in his cardigan and sing to me and I don’t even like Mr. Rogers. My mother’s right – this is all her fault.

Reflective writing prompt: Write about your beshert.


2/10/21 Workshop – A Poem by Lucille Clifton

Fred and Lucille Clifton


the death of fred clifton – Lucille Clifton


age 49

i seemed to be drawn

to the center of myself

leaving the edges of me

in the hands of my wife

and i saw with the most amazing


so that i had not eyes but


and, rising and turning,

through my skin,

there was all around not the

shapes of things

but oh, at last, the things



Reflective writing prompt: Write about a time of clarity