Michelle Nguyen
Dr. Michelle-Linh (Michelle) Nguyen is a primary care doctor and researcher at UCSF and the Zuckerberg San Francisco General Hospital.

Pause, Breathe, and Re-Connect Through Poetry

This event was organized by Michelle-Linh (Michelle) Nguyen, Farah Hamade, Polina Ilieva, and Joanna Kang with support from the UCSF Library.

As social distancing rules and regulations begin to relax, many of us are feeling the strain of prolonged social isolation and re-learning how to reach out to others.

On April 29, 2021, forty-eight San Francisco and UCSF community members gathered virtually during the lunch hour on Zoom for a series of poetry readings and discussion centered around the human experience of medicine. Farah Hamade, the inaugural UCSF Library Artist-in-Residence, took visual notes and created an art piece that represents the event and experience. You can also review the event recording.

Three poets—Kathleen McClung, Sharon Pretti, and Peggy Tahir—were selected through a submissions process from the San Francisco community to read their work. Sharon Pretti read a series of poems written during and after her brother’s pancreatic cancer diagnosis, treatment, and eventual death. Kathleen McClung read a sequence of sonnets inspired by her partner and her experiences navigating his treatment and surgery for a pituitary mass.

poetry event sketch 1
© Farah Hamade 2021. All rights reserved.

Peggy Tahir read a series of poems written for each radiation treatment she underwent for breast cancer. The readings were followed by a 10-second pause to create space for reflection and a rich discussion.

Michelle-Linh (Michelle) Nguyen closed the event with a reading from The Book of Delights by Ross Gay.

poetry event sketch 2
© Farah Hamade 2021. All rights reserved.

The introduction of the event and poetry readings were recorded with the poets’ permission. The recording was turned off for the discussion and closing to create a more comfortable, intimate space. After the event, the poetry reading recording, Farah Hamade’s art piece and a poem by Michelle-Linh (Michelle) Nguyen were shared.

poetry event sketch 3
© Farah Hamade 2021. All rights reserved.


Her knees were knobs.
They made me want to look away.

Lifting the thin cotton sheet
I check for pressure points.
Discover an IV’s indent
into thin, yellow skin.

Family arrive,
Carrying a pot of violets
and a tablet checkered
with moving images.

I watch her brother strum a guitar
from 4,000 miles away

I see her as she was. Hand
against mountain rock. Hairs
levitating in the wind. Hunting,
her mom tells me, She loved to hunt with us.

Before they arrived, I listened to her wail

Mouth wide and round
the inner earth came
through her, spilling out
onto the sanitized floor

After her family read
the booklet on death,
she left us.

I was left coding and compartmentalizing
her small voice and sobs

Alcoholic Cirrhosis of Liver with Ascites
K70.31, click.

Despite a lengthy search
for Sister, Daughter, Best Friend
Mountain, Tundra, Hunter

I found no codes.

© Michelle-Linh Nguyen 2021. All rights reserved.