American Life in Poetry: Column 576


Richard M. Berlin is a doctor and poet, or a poet and doctor, and in this poem from his book Practice, from Brick Road Poetry Press, he honors the wisdom each of us gains through experience. 

A Lobsterman Looks at the Sea

His new hip healed in, we're working
on a bluff, talking doctors and health care
reform as we shove a new propane tank into place.
A shape on the surface catches his eye:
"Right whale," he says, but I can only see
endless swells rolling in from the east.
He points out the gradations of gray
and green that mark deep ledge, the tide's
shape along the islands and rocks,
the whale's glistening back suddenly in focus.
I react with the same surprise
my patients feel when I observe
what they can't see—
a sudden shift in gaze, or a crease in a cheek,
understanding how a doctor becomes
like a man who has spent sixty years
on a lobster boat, watching the world
swim fast and shining, right before his eyes.

We do not accept unsolicited submissions. American Life in Poetry is made possible by The Poetry Foundation (, publisher of Poetry magazine. It is also supported by the Department of English at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

Poem copyright ©2015 by Richard M. Berlin, A Lobsterman Looks at the Sea,” from Practice, (Brick Road Poetry Press, 2015). Poem reprinted by permission of Richard M. Berlin and the publisher. 
Introduction copyright © 2019 by The Poetry Foundation. The introduction's author, Ted Kooser, served as United States Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress from 2004-2006.