The Substitute Teacher


The big tree fell on the school’s square

breaking benches and one statue. 

The wind did not cease till dawn.

The students missed the shade.


They are waiting for the substitute teacher,

a reader with a sweet voice, 

reading stories like a song.


She doesn’t want them 

to draw gardens, bees, and butterflies,

or photosynthesis.


Think of matrices, play with curvatures

Observe an ant walk on a crumpled white paper,

Imagine a hen in a forest, she tells them.


“Throw colored water at one another.”

Where are the elephants decked with flowers, garlands 

of pink and saffron, the street corners crowded with rickshaws,

aromatic “spice that comes from the stamen of crocuses”?


They are shadows of her moves,

Inflections of her voice:

mirrors and echoes

of a noble path she walks.


Before the end of one class

Everyone hears her says

“Don’t be afraid

of dragons.”


For one moment, she thinks

she sees a hesitation,

as if they see sparks,

tiny jets of flame,

before they grab

their backpacks.



Monday thought

Abraham Verghese,MD, a professor at Stanford University and a renowned author of Cutting for Stone as well as other popular books, was asked in an interview:

“How do you see your role as an academic physician, and how do you approach the role of the teacher?”

Dr. Verghese says,  “teaching… teaches you. You have to learn in order to teach. I think it keeps us all fresh. But I find that I also enjoy the ritual of teaching — the fact that I wind up repeating some things every few months as another crew of students comes through, and I find myself saying the same things. I have a new appreciation for some of my professors and the enthusiasm with which they taught me. I’m always reminded that for every student, my interaction should feel like it is a first time and not convey any sense of being jaded.

If we do it right, teaching one person over a lifetime will influence so many other people. It’s a huge responsibility, because you can leverage your teaching into someone’s actions in a way that can make a difference to thousands of others. So I take it very seriously, and I also get a great deal of pleasure from it.”

Another question:”How does your writing fit into your professional life? Is this separate from being a doctor? How does someone like you, who is both a gifted writer and a gifted physician, combine those 2 passions?”

Dr. Verghese answers,”I feel incredibly privileged to be physician, and I feel like I’m ‘all physician.’ It’s completely the way that I define myself. If I had to give up one thing, it would easily be the writing. … And the writing, to me, is a form of legitimate exploration. It’s a form of truth-telling…one lovely definition of fiction is that it’s the great lie that tells the truth about how the world lives…

One of the great things that writing has done for me is that it allows me to truly understand what I’m thinking…Something mysterious happens — call it the right brain or the muse — but the act of writing helps one understand something much more deeply than just thinking about it. So, I always think that I write in order to understand what I’m thinking…”

excerpts from: Medscape, Practicing Humanism in Medicine With Dr. Abraham Verghese