Paper Symphony

Author:Jennifer Harris


Medicine is tuned so often to the busyness of sights and smells—to the shocking red of blood or perhaps the stench of gingivitis and decay. Somehow it is the sounds that seem to take more effort and stillness to hear. With this poem, I tried to capture the isolation, the universality, the pain, and ultimately the beauty in the chorus of human life as captured on the hospital floor. A bit ambitious, I know.




An opiated moan.  

A sharp cry.

The metallic clink of rods and curtain rings shoved to the side.

The whirr of automatic doors opening,

Giving way to the fluorescent buzz of a long passageway.


White noise, all of it, for the white-robed physicians

With stethoscopes and ears tuned only to the percussion of heart and lungs

And to the chatter of nurses, the staccato of the attendings,

And the bass rumblings of lunch.


Deafening for each patient in their thin cotton uniform

The sounds of fear and unfamiliarity

That play on jangled nerves and frail bodies:

A rhythmic accompaniment against which the strains of life play.


Tenuto: suspended in time from the rhythms of normalcy

Each lonely solo rises, heard only by their own ears.

In an atonal harmony, in a never-ending crescendo,

Sing these paper bodies, inhabited by eternal souls.


About the Author: Jennifer Harris

Jennifer is a second-year medical student at UT Southwestern.