Debra Nystrom's poem "Smoke Break Behind the Treatment Center," posted on today's The Writer's Almanac with Garrison Keillor, put me smack into the uncomfortable shoes of those jittery smokers at the end of the third week of treatment and the start of family weekend. The poem's power resides in its understated, spare approach to a hot topic, such as noting that in fifteen minutes the patients will "see the ones who've come to find out if / they are changing."
This poem paints a vivid landscape that hints at the painful inner world of those in treatment:"this door behind / the cafeteria, where they can look across / to the stubble field, world of chopped-off stalks / that has ripped them up, that they needed / too much from."
Poems have the power to build empathy by letting us experience other worlds far removed from our own. In this poem, I can see and smell the smoke from the cigarettes, and though there is no description of anyone's face, I can imagine the pain in those eyes.
"Smoke Break Behind the Treatment Center" by Debra Nystrom, from Bad River Road. © Sarabande Books, 2009.