top of page

Charles R. Perakis

Poetry Offered Another Way of Seeing the World

Charles R. Perakis, D.O., is a family physician in Maine. His hobby of studying medical humanities complements his highly scientific medical education. Now he teaches medical students and family medicine residents.

I began to write poems in response to some prompts like: "You gotta read this book"

You Gotta Read This Book

In the beginning; it’s about this guy,

who creates heaven and earth

in just seven days;

no six; he rests on the seventh.

There are just two characters

at first; a guy named Adam

and a girl named Eve

She’s made from one of his ribs.

They live in a town called Paradise

Everything is bliss,


this snake in a tree

gives Eve an apple.

Well, this apple is a symbol.

Adam takes a bite

and this pisses off the guy

who made everything.

He kicks them out of town

and tells them

never to come back.

Well, this sets a lot in motion.

It’s all downhill from there.

War, murder, plagues, famines;

the worst of the worst.

Anyway there are a lot of

good lessons in this book,

and this is just the old part.

In the new part,

the guy who created everything

gives everyone another chance.

He somehow impregnates a virgin.

She has a boy

born in an animal stall.

He starts out as an ordinary carpenter

but ends up starting a gang

out of ordinary guys.

They go on tour.

Before you know it

there are groupies following them around.

Well, the people in power get nervous

and decide he’s gotta go.

They convince one of his gang

to turn on him.

They nail him to a cross

and he dies.

But wait

in a few days

he comes back to life.

If you believe all this

you can live forever.

You gotta read this book!

In college I discovered my reality differed in many ways from the majority of those around me. Was I crazy? Sometimes I wondered about that difference. Poetry offers another way of seeing the world. It doesn’t have to be rational, literal, concrete or “objective.” I found poems that inspired me:

  • If by Rudyard Kipling

  • Ode to the Watermelon by Pablo Neruda

  • White Owl Flies Into and Out of the Field by Mary Oliver

On my way to becoming a family physician in Maine, my undergraduate education was highly scientific. I knew something was missing. I began to study connections between medicine and literature, history, philosophy ethics, and aesthetics. The study of medical humanities became my hobby.

Typically, existing medical education is grounded in the knowledge of scientific principles, however when it is tempered by the wisdom of the humanities, we are able to forge new directions and discoveries in medical education and our students are able to bloom. One of my educational goals since medical school has been to weave the lessons from the humanities into medical education.

I now teach medical students and family medicine residents, highlighting for learners the importance of the patient-physician relationship. We start by reviewing a framework for making a history with the patient. By emphasizing the value of listening and asking the right questions at the right time, the learners come to see that many problems are self limited and related to life’s predicaments rather than disease as represented in textbooks. I share my article, Soul Sickness: A Frequently Missed Diagnosis, in the Journal of the American Osteopathic Association, Vol. 110, No. 6, June 2010, which explains this concept in detail.

Next, I ask the learners to view the patient’s symptoms and concerns in the context of their wider lives and history while they examine the whole philosophy of how they intend to practice medicine:

Is It Medicine or Poetry?

I open up the exam room door,

facing a blank sheet of paper.

After an introduction,

we begin our collaborative poem.

We both search for elusive truths

First some expositive questions;

tell me your story

as best you can.

Where are you wounded?

By whom?

and why?

Were you dealt dirty DNA?

Does it run in your family?

Were you breast-fed?

Were you loved as a child?

When did you first notice

the problem?

What do you think is wrong?

What is a typical day like

in your life?

Is your heart broken?

How tall are you?

How much do you weigh?

Are you spleeny?

Has a surgeon ever looked inside you?

Was your soul there?

Tell me what you eat.

Does it nourish you?

Do you get enough sleep?

Tell me your dreams.

How do you earn a living?

Are you happy in your work?

What is your marital status?

Does someone love you now?

What medications are you taking?

Do you use mind-altering substances?

How often do your bowels move?

Can you eliminate foul things?

Are your parents alive?

What killed them?

Did your parents abuse you?

Where does it hurt?

Is it pain


is it suffering?

I have kept a personal journal for 25 years. I record and encourage learners with whom I work, to record “critical events”, those moments that stimulate intense emotions in us. I write a brief narrative and then reflect on its effect on me and why I reacted the way I did. This exercise has lead to much personal growth.

Earl Longfellow

Why did he come for a physical?

Looking back, he must have known.

He was quite ill.

His frail wife needed his care.

First came prostate cancer;

they fixed his hernias

but took his testicles.

His wife was moved.

He didn’t get better.

Next came stomach cancer

with spread to the liver,

thrown in.

I can’t take anymore!

I’m ready to die!

If only I could see the apple blossoms

one more time;

he didn’t.

There is also a place for some humor. I wrote this poem in response to a close friend who had to have surgery for prostate cancer.

The Prostate

It ain’t pretty like a breast.

You can’t even see it.

Only doctor’s get to feel it.

Most guys don’t even know

what it’s for.

If you get old enough

you find out it’s there,

you start getting up

to piss all night.

When was the last time

you heard someone say:

“That’s one fine prostate he’s got!”

I obtained a Masters degree in Education in Arts and Learning and learned that teaching needs to be interactive and experiential. I now realize teaching involves creating a learning environment. I serve as a catalyst and the students do the rest. As an individual and a professional, I faced my weaknesses and experimented with creative alternatives. I have learned to “trust the process” and to get out of the way of my own creativity. The results have been gratifying and created a sense of a whole self.

My passion and love for teaching has grown stronger over the years. I’m frequently searching for ways to spark this passion in my students by exploring meaningful and creative experiences in which students can participate.

Writing prompt for readers from Charles Perakis: Make your first line or title: "You gotta read this book!!"

Charles R. Perakis
bottom of page