The Doctor of Starlight

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In honor of Philip Levine’s birthday we are pleased to share his poem “The Doctor of Starlight,” which originally appeared in MQR 19:3. The full issue is available in our archive


“Show me the place,” he said.
I removed my shirt and pointed
to a tiny star above my heart.
He leaned and listened. I could feel
his breath falling lightly, flattening
the hairs on my chest. He turned
me around and his hands gently
plied my shoulder blades and then rose
to knead the twin columns forming
my neck. “You are an athlete?”
“No,” I said, “I’m a working man.”
“And you make?” he said. “I make
the glare for lightbulbs.” “Yes,
where would we be without them?”
“In the dark.” “Yes,” he said,
“in the dark.” I heard the starched
dress of the nurse behind me,
and then together they helped me
lie face up on his table, where blind
and helpless I thought of all
the men and women who had surrendered
and how little good it had done them.
The nurse took my right wrist
in both of her strong hands, and I
saw the doctor lean toward me,
a tiny chrome knife glinting in
one hand and tweezers in the other.
I could feel nothing, and then he said
proudly, “I have it!” and held up
the perfect little blue star, no
longer me and now bloodless. “And do
you know what we have under it?”
“No,” I said. “Another perfect star.”
I closed my eyes, but the lights
still swam before me in a sea
of golden fire. “What does it mean?” “Mean?” he said,
dabbing the place with something cool and liquid,
and all the lights were blinking on
and off, or perhaps my eyes were
opening and closing. “Mean?” he said,
“It could mean this is who you are.”

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