For Want of a Gene, Iconic, To White Coats – Poetry

By Catharine Clark-Sayles

For Want of a Gene                      

         For Scarlet

For want of a gene a protein is lost
For want of a protein a neuron dissolves
For want of a neuron a muscle grows weak
For want of a muscle a baby can’t walk

We cheer pink, cheetah-print leg braces
We wish for girlish happiness
Of pink and a killer fashion sense
We wish for sleekness and strength
We wish like a cheetah you could run
Faster than a missing gene


In the firmament of 3 AM,
constellations of pain ride with morphine
dreams: the distant stars

of pinprick nerves, the nova jabs of bones
smashed and badly healed. She painted
what she saw: a mirrored hall of Fridas,

Olmec priestess, Virgin with a bloodied
heart, sacrificial victim splayed
for the surgeon’s knife, floating

on a multitude of painted beds. A comet trail
of night-land wanders following her face.
She comes to me: a blurred much copied copy

in black and white, her glossy hair like wings
of night, her brows in Saturn rings
across her face.

When sleep eludes and pain slips
up my spine, words drift just out of reach
as I try to arrange them on the page;

she watches from a postcard by my bed,
silent and reproachful.
I imagine her with scarlet lips.

To White Coats

White, crisp, creased —
power woven into the warp,
pockets for pens, hammers and lights,
for decks of 3×5 cards,
for a notebook rubber-banded
and bulging. Camouflaged
beginner in a world of white.

My first coat: short, to the hips, starched
with excitement and fear.  Months faded
to fatigue, the coat softened with washings,
pocket edge torn, a black blotch
over the heart from the leak of cheap pens,
purple spot on one sleeve –a microscope
slide slipped one 2 AM while Mr. C
coughed life away and taught me death.

Blood leaves faint speckles of brown
and nothing removes the iodine stain
of a first solo stitching: Mrs. Green
a sink full of suds and one jagged glass;
she laid her wounded palm down
in full trust for my tremulous stitching.
My hand steadied by a white coat.

The Attending Coat, years later
reached my knees. Into rooms of chaos,
came calm in a stiff ripple of white.
Rapid jiggle of heartbeat, jagged green line
on a screen over a hospital bed slowed
to steady lubdub when my consultant
coat appeared. Belligerent husbands,
angry mothers turned docile and nodding;
my coat teaching how to bring comfort.

After years: a closet of coats, stored
on hangers in rows.  Storied in stains;
shields splintered in battle; trophies
stored in a case in a dusty back hall.
For honor, for teaching,
for healing, for loss.

After growing up all over the United States in a military family and a few years serving as an Army doctor, Catharine Clark-Sayles settled in the San Francisco area where she practices geriatric medicine. She resumed writing at forty and has spent 20 years shedding the bad habits of medical narrative for a more poetic diction. She has published two books of poetry with Tebot Bach Press. One Breath in 2008 was poetry drawn from medical training and practice. Lifeboat was published in 2012. Recent work has appeared in Spillway, The Midwestern Quarterly, Persimmon Tree, Neat, Touch: The Journal of Healing, The Healing Muse, and anthologies: The Healing Art of Writing vol. 1 and vol.2. Visit her at


samidan19 View All →

Sami Holden earned an MFA in Screenwriting from UC-Riverside at Palm Desert and is the founder of The Tiny Tim Literary Review. Previously she was a dating advice columnist for The Good Men Project’s column – Dating in the Digital Age with Sami Holden as well as the press and social media editor for The Coachella Review. She wrote a blog for a number of years called Chronicles of Cheerful Clotter for HemAware Magazine, where she detailed her life with chronic health conditions. Sami is also an associate producer and press manager for the documentary Invisible: The Film, which focuses on individuals living with chronic pain and invisible illness. She has served on the Board of Directors for the National Hemophilia Foundation, spent time as a Senatorial intern, and was Miss Wisconsin for the ANTSO program. In addition, she has had articles published in Chronicality, Elephant Journal, The Glow (Australia), I.G. Living Magazine, The Manifest-Station, The Mighty, National Pain Report, Ravishly, and YourTango. Her interests include ukuleles and sloths. Find her @SamiDan19.

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