This poem comes from Narrative Medicine alumni, Joseph Eveld. When we read poetry in group sessions we have printed copies, and often read through the poem twice, aloud, with a volunteer reading. The first time we listen, and the second time we use our pens to circle, underline, or write what stands out to us. We encourage you to do the same on your own with this poem, and follow the steps below to think deeper into the piece and take a moment for reflective writing.
1. Read the poem
“From Don’t Call Us Dead (Graywolf Press, 2017). Copyright © 2017 by Danez Smith. Used and shared from poets.org by permission of The Permissions Company, Inc., on behalf of Graywolf Press, http://www.graywolfpress.org.
by Danez Smith
let him find honey
where there was once a slaughter
let him enter the lion’s cage
& find a field of lilacs
let this be the healing
& if not let it be
2. Discuss the poem
Ideally, narrative medicine is practiced in a group, and a discussion happens around the text. This is important, not to find answers in the text, or to discover what it “really” means, but to learn how the construction of writing influences our perspectives, and that influence is different for each of us. If you are not bringing this piece to a group and are reading it on your own instead, it’s still good to try to think about how the poem is perceived.
“When I read this poem, I like to think about scale– the poem is called ‘little’ prayer, and it is brief, and yet some of what it contains is massive in scale: ‘slaughter’ and ‘field’ for example. These spaces are contrasted as well, the expanse of the field is found after entering the confined space of a lion’s cage, and slaughter is countered with the intimate and, by comparison, small act of taste. To me this suggests that the poem is giving us the experience that small things have impacts on a larger scale, by paralleling and contrasting these. I also like to think about who ‘he’ is– me or someone else, and where is ‘here?’ A moment in time? A space? I think about the senses– the idea and fear of confinement and predation in the lion’s cage, and the transformation into a visual that engages our sense of smell, much like the change from slaughter to honey engages our sense of taste– the moments of positive transformation in the poem are engaged with the simplest of sense, suggesting that this might be how we process ‘remedies’ for for the larger ideas of fear and ruin. And I like to think about the form of the poem, how the lack of punctuation and capitalization makes it feel soft and quiet, and how the addition of one extra space in the final line allows for a moment of pause before acceptance. These are some of the things the poem does for me, and I encourage you to think of things that I have not noted, or spaces where you disagree or think something different is happening. Those differing perspectives are what narrative medicine helps us to learn from.” – Joseph Eveld, MS, MFA
3. Write to a prompt
Writing in the “shadow” of a text, helps us to learn more about our own perspective and what the text has awakened in us. Set your clock to 3 or 4 minutes, no more. Here is a prompt to try, but feel free to come up with a different one.
Write your own little prayer.
You can do this by yourself, but if you have the opportunity to share the experience with a friend, family member, colleague or anyone else, try to read to one another what you wrote. Do not preface your writing with apologies or descriptions (no “Sorry, this was rushed/incomplete/etc…”), and do not change it as you read. Read exactly the words on the page.
If you listen to a partner read, think about the language, mood, narrator, and other aspects of the written story. The plot is important, but so is what you can recognize in the writing itself.
If you would like, you can feel free to share what you wrote by posting a comment below as a means to foster discussion and further connect with others, though this does not guarantee a response. If you comment on what others have shared, comments should remain focused on the elements of the writing, and not include judgements on content, and any inappropriate comments will be removed.