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Poetry Moment: Ross Gay and 'For a Young Emergency Room Doctor'

Poet Ross Gay
Poet Ross Gay

Poetry Moment on WPSU is a program featuring the work of contemporary Pennsylvania poets. Host Todd Davis is a professor of English and Environmental Studies at Penn State Altoona.

This episode’s poem is “For a Young Emergency Room Doctor” by Ross Gay.

Ross Gay grew up in the Philadelphia suburbs, playing football and basketball, and later attended Lafayette College, where he played football and discovered his love for poetry. He’s the author of four books of poetry: Against Which; Bringing the Shovel Down; Be Holding, which won the PEN American Literary Jean Stein Award; and Catalog of Unabashed Gratitude, winner of the 2015 National Book Critics Circle Award and the 2016 Kingsley Tufts Poetry Award. His first collection of essays, The Book of Delights, was released in 2019 and was a New York Times bestseller. His new collection of essays, Inciting Joy, has just been published.

Violence, especially gun violence, has reached epidemic proportions in the United States. The American Medical Association has deemed gun violence a public health crisis, and the Center for Disease Control and Prevention released provisional data this past July suggesting that nearly 49,000 people were killed by guns in 2021.

Gun violence ripples outward, from the startling sound of the firearm’s discharge to the wound opened in the body, to those who witness the act, to those who work tirelessly to save the life or mourn its loss. What do we learn from these acts of violence? What is the legacy of such stories? Ross Gay writes movingly from the perspective of a medical worker who bears witness to the aftermath of gun violence, trying to save a life, to heal in the wake of such devastation.


For a Young Emergency Room Doctor

Although this prayer should first dress
the dead boy’s wounds,
nine gunshots, in and out, the spine pierced
and wrecked enough to twist
the head’s dangle
backward; and before the body,
the night through which the bullets chewed;
and the latex sheathing the hands of the cops who
dragged and dropped
the boy on the gurney—
last touch of this world
gloved; and the heart’s dirge
dwindling lament
for spilled blood, lost love; too, for the blankets of light
wrapping him, jewelling
the viscous liquid slicking his lips:
it’s for the living. For those
who close the boy’s eyes again
and again. For whom
salve is the wound’s mend, the eased bleed.
Who tell the story
while eating. Who, too, die
at the dying’s rising pile.


That was “For a Young Emergency Room Doctor” by Ross Gay.

Hear more episodes of Poetry Moment at

Todd Davis is the 2022-23 host of "Poetry Moment" on WPSU.