Candlelight vigil for Dwight Clark, photo by Western Front


Missing a night’s sleep after the party,
and sleeping in Sunday morning
Missing a morning shower,
and breakfast then lunch

Missing a walk across campus,
and an hour of skateboarding
Missing time to study,
and then dinner

Missing his mother’s two calls,
and his new roommate’s concern when the bed stays unslept in
Missing his friends’ many unanswered texts,
and one class, and then another

Missing his mom searching his undisturbed car, his desk, his room for clues,
and her tears and pleas for help
Missing the email alert to campus,
and the prayers of people he never knew

Missing the canine search and rescue team,
and the reward offered for leads
Missing the fliers posted across the city,
an dthe thousands showing support online

Missing the candlelight vigil,
and the media coverage
Missing it all
and being missed

Just plain gone


Until he’s found
and terribly missed

with heartfelt prayers for the family and friends of new freshman student Dwight Clark who disappeared without a trace early 9/26/10 in Bellingham, Washington

Hitchhiking Right Out of the Classroom

His reputation was well known and all the medical students had heard the stories about Dr. Rosse. As the Anatomy Professor, his class would become the primary focus of student energy in the first year of medical school, with other classes seeming like so much background noise.

Dr. Rosse believed in active student participation in class, in the cadaver lab, on oral tests. He told us from the first day on: ” You will learn to THINK in this class like you’ve never thought before! Your patient’s lives depend on this. You will be prepared for my class each and every day, just as you must be prepared for whatever your patients will need from you.”

He was correct.

There were 110 of us in the lecture hall that first day, looking nervously at each other and at the empty podium down in front. We had been assigned three chapters in the anatomy textbook before Dr. Rosse’s first lecture and were expected to know the names of the bones and major blood vessels.

Dr. Rosse’s assignment for himself was to memorize our names and faces from a photo directory provided to him two days previously.

He began his lecture in the barely darkened room, running quickly through a carousel of slides of graphic photos and drawings of body parts. Within five minutes, he stopped and in his thick European accent, pointed at a student in the second row said: “Mr. Davis, can you tell me the name of this blood vessel on this slide?”

The student sat up startled, and sat silent, gathering his wits. Dr. Rosse looked pointedly at his wrist watch and started saying, “Drip. Drip. Drip.”  The student started to sweat.

“Drip, drip, drip, your patient is losing blood, Mr. Davis.”

The student, in a moment of enlightenment asked,” the inferior vena cava?” and Dr. Rosse said, “Very good, Mr. Davis!” and made a notation on the tablet on the podium in front of him.

The rest of our hearts immediately were in our throats, something that Dr. Rosse would later tell us was an anatomic impossibility, no matter how much it felt like it. There would be no dozing off, daydreaming or not preparing for this class.

My turn came the following week as he called out my name, his steely eyes fixed on only me. I got off fairly easy with a question from Dr. Rosse about the attachments for the extensor pollicis longus. I had memorized all the arm muscles the night before so was prepared.

“Yes, very good, Miss Polis.  Now tell me, if I were to fall off this podium right now, land on my outstretched arm and rupture my extensor pollicis longus, what would I not be able to do with my arm?”

I had no idea. I looked at him somewhat aghast. I thought I had done the necessary preparation to be ready for his questioning. My memorizing names and locations of muscles and tendons had only taken me so far. I had not really thought about the functionality of what I was learning and how it might be relevant to my future patients.

“Think now Miss Polis! This is not so very hard that you can’t THINK it out!”  Dr. Rosse demanded from the podium.

So I guessed. “Uh, you can’t grip?”

“Exactly wrong! Take a hike back to your study carrel, Miss Polis.  You have not prepared yourself well enough. Go back to your book, and with each muscle you memorize, you must feel it on yourself or your study partner and think about how it works. Your patient will thank you for that someday.”

I was mortified that day, but survived that anatomy class, survived six oral exams over the cadaver with Dr. Rosse, and although I didn’t get an A in his class, I was very relieved to get a B+. As a student, I had never been asked before to actually apply what I was learning to make it relevant to my future work. Dr. Rosse was right. I had learned to not just memorize, but to think.

And when I saw my first extensor pollicis longus rupture seven years later in my practice, I was absolutely confident of the diagnosis because my patient could not lift up his thumb when asked to act like he was hitchhiking.  And my patient did thank me.  Dr. Rosse was right again.

Without A Leg to Stand On

Three weeks old
when his mother allowed me
a peek in the nest
to spy his fledging wings;
he did his best to hide beneath her.

It was another week before
it was clear
he could not stand or perch,
deformed legs sprawled
and spraddled aside.

He flopped rather than hopped
out of the nest at five weeks,
fluttering to the cage floor
in search of the world
outside his mother’s wings.

Crouched next to seed and water
he fed himself, tucked in a corner
watching others come and go.
Soon he jumped out the door
to join them outside.

Now it was up to me:
walk away or put feed and water
on the ground where he could reach.
His desire to live so strong,
his voice just forming in his throat.

Now two months later I fret
as the night grows chill
and the rain falls,
his makeshift shelter may fail
to protect him.

He can not stand
and will never fly,
yet he can sing
and does
so my heart may hear.

Tall, Dark, and Shallow

A row of Populus Nigra (Latin for “people of the dark”), otherwise known as Lombardy Poplars, seems to be following me.  I feel pursued by this long border of eighty-plus year old poplars on the west edge of our farm.  The trees themselves, supposedly nearing the end of a typical poplar life span, are grand massively tall specimens, their leaves and branches noisily reacting to the tiniest of breezes.  In greater winds, they bend and sway wildly, almost elastic.  The trees themselves are certainly not going anywhere in their hot pursuit of me, but beneath the ground is a remarkable stealth root system that is creeping outward, reaching inch by inch closer to the house.

That is what strikes fear in my heart.

If I leave those roots undisturbed for only a few months, they swell to arm size, lying just below the surface of the ground, busily sprouting numerous new little Populus Nigra along the length of the root.   These are no cute babyish innocent little seedlings.  These are seriously hungry plants determined to be fed from the roots as if from a fire hose.  They literally put on inches over a week;  they are over 6 feet tall in a month or two.   If I am not paying attention, suddenly I’m faced with dozens of new poplar babies, each sucking on a communal maternal umbilical cord.

I have no choice but to seek and destroy on a regular basis.  It is a shock and awe operation.  I’m shocked at the growth and awed at the strength of the adversary.   Many of these simply cannot be pulled up from the dust by hand as the process results in a root crawling many yards long, heading east toward the house like a heat-seeking missile.  To finish off the job, sometimes the root must be removed entirely by tractor.  I am here to certify that it is impossible to remove sufficient root system to stem the Populus Nigra tide.  It will always return, healthier than before.

I do have to admire this tree for its fortitude as well as its beauty.  As a wind break, it is unparalleled, its leaves melodious in the breeze.   It sheds its foliage as well as dying branches in the fall, messily scattering itself as far as arboreally possible, so tends to precipitate warming bonfires on autumn evenings.   Lastly, it makes for great artwork by the likes of Monet and Van Gogh, creating predictability, uniformity and symmetry both in their paintings and in the palette of our farmscape.

The poplars may be pursuing me but I enjoy the chase.  I gaze with appreciation at our row of poplars’ dark outline against the horizon during orange sunsets.  I miss their hubbub of constant activity when their leaves drop for winter.  Stripped naked, they wait in surreptitious silence for the rush of spring warmth and moisture to start creeping forward again, the gush of sap plumping up seedlings like balloons, once again growing clones against all odds.

My husband suggested it was time to take the poplars down before they break over in their old age, overcome in the strong northeasters.  I must disagree.  They deserve the chance to fight off our struggle to the finish to prevent infiltration beyond their defined border row.

Being pursued by a tree is never a bad thing.   I am humbled their shallow roots will likely outlast me even as I try to take them out, pulling me down face first into the dust to join them.

Meadow with Poplars by Monet
Poplars by Van Gogh
Avenue of Poplars at Sunrise by Van Gogh
Golden Poplars by Karl Termohlen