Journeys by Barry L. Zaret

Author photo: Harold Shapiro

In Journeys, his first poetry collection, Barry L. Zaret has unleashed a long-withheld torrent of gorgeous verse drawn from the riches of his Jewish heritage, his life as a cardiologist, his intense sorrows and equally intense joys, and his love of the natural world, especially his beloved Berkshires. What one senses most of all in these life-changing poems is the enormously generous and empathetic spirit behind them. National Book Award winner, Sherwin B. Nuland, states that “these singularly evocative poems could have come only from the deepest sensibilities of Dr. Barry Zaret, a brilliant physician gifted with extraordinary perception and understanding, as well as the ability to see empathically into the very souls of himself and of others. Here he looks unflinchingly at his own and our pain and sorrow—and at death—ultimately finding a future of promise and fulfillment. His lines are crafted with love.”

Front cover painting by the author

Barry L. Zaret’s poems have appeared in Caduceus, Pharos, and Long River Run. Several of them have been set to music and have been performed in concert. In his other life, Dr. Zaret is a cardiologist who has been on the faculty of Yale University School of Medicine since 1973. He served as Chief of Cardiology there and at Yale New Haven Medical Center for twenty-seven years. Currently he is the Robert W. Berliner Emeritus Professor of Medicine and Senior Research Scientist at Yale, where he continues to see patients, teach, write, and mentor. He is recognized for his pioneer research in the development of nuclear cardiology. Dr. Zaret has written or edited five medical texts, one of which is in its fourth edition, as well as several hundred scientific papers and book chapters. He was the founding Editor-in-Chief of the Journal of Nuclear Cardiology. He has received many awards for his scientific work and is a member of several honorific societies. Dr. Zaret is also an accomplished painter whose oils appear in numerous private collections. He has exhibited in New Haven and Hartford, Connecticut, as well as in the Berkshires. The father of three and grandfather of six, Barry L. Zaret lives in Woodbridge, CT and East Otis, MA.

Click here to read samples from the book. And click here for a review in Tablet magazine.

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ISBN 978-1-936482-23-8

Copyright © 2012 by Barry L. Zaret

6" x 9" paperback, 120 pages





For years my father served
the Jewish families of Far Rockaway
from behind the counter
of his little butcher shop.
His large following
traveled miles
for ritually proper meat,
ladies first previewing
the small outer window display,
then entering the cold store
to order, bargain, schmooze.
He glided with tango grace
on the sawdust-covered floor,
smiling, cajoling, humoring,
slicing, weighing, wrapping,
carrying large slabs of meat
in muscular forearms
from the store’s rear
walk-in refrigerator.
Cap on his head,
cigarette never far away,
pencil behind his ear,
bill added on
brown paper bag.
Thursday stretched
from well before dawn,
until late in the evening.
After Shabbat dinner
he collapsed
and slept enough that night
for the whole week.
He worked so very hard,
scratched out a living,
was cheated by his partner.
Devastated, he
sold the store, but
never lost his spirit.

Occasionally I delivered orders,
or just helped out.
When I started college,
the store supplied
my chemistry lab attire,
a long butcher’s coat.
New, pristinely white,
untouched by calf blood,
it served me well
while mixing reagents
and precipitating salts.
When accepted to
medical school
with scholarship,
I was headlined:
“Butcher’s Boy Makes Good.”
My father beamed;
I liked the alliteration;
my friends thought it hilarious.
But they never looked inside
this loving butcher whose
youth far from Rockaway’s shore
contained enough pain
to fill fifty lives,
a hurtful montage of
pogrom, orphanhood,
hunger, poverty, betrayal,
care of two young sisters,
travel to foreign lands.
A forgiving butcher,
gentle and wise,
wearing his scars
but not consumed by them,
living his immigrant dream
when his only son was called doctor.
I was proud to be this butcher’s boy.



Every day the medical center
fills my eyes
with profiles of disease
long before I arrive
at my patients’ hospital rooms.
I see couples
walking hand in hand
across trafficked streets
from garage to hospital,
navigating the medical center
down serpiginous hallways,
searching for unmarked offices.
They are many
years past teen romance,
hands now linked to form
new life lines.



God of cancer,
you are an evil tease.
You give us scattered
hours, even days
of happiness and ease.
Then you take it all back
replaced with weakness, pain,
sleeplessness, fear.
God of cancer,
you are a relentless foe,
one I cannot defeat
no matter my plan.
If you were a man
I would grasp your throat
and squeeze with every
ounce of my strength
until your face blued
and your breath ceased.
I would stand over
your lifeless body
with arms raised
despite my oath to heal.
But you are not a man
and I am not a god.
Let us continue the struggle.
I will not concede,
even as you make the rules,
you evil tease, you relentless foe.



Since moving to
the Land of Cancer
each day is a ride
on my seesaw
of hope and reality.
When she has a good scan
I elevate skyward.
If her scan worsens
or treatment yields
fearful side effects,
I fall rapidly,
jarred by the impact
of landing on the hard ground:
new chemo,
more radiation,
new issues—
nights of nausea,
days of fatigue.

As a young boy on a
blacktop Brooklyn playground
I once rode a seesaw,
my urban birch tree.
I longed for the jolting ride in space,
the escape from life’s routines,
eagerly waiting for the hard bounce
as ground was touched again.

The rides now differ:
I avoid going too high—
the fall should be softer.
Above all, the ride should continue.
Fifteen months in the Land of Cancer.



Clear morning in December,
unseasonably warm;
solar exclamations
punctuate the cloudless sky.
Driving south
the car moves with
serene speed.
Springsteen blares
on the radio:
“…can’t start a fire
without a spark…”
My head bobs with the beat.
No need for sparks;
my fire has burned
white hot for hours.
The untrafficked parkway,
the sunlight,
the feeling of ease,
the music,
all coalesce
to provide
unparalleled joy.
I move leftward
to pass a slow moving
black vehicle.
When alongside
I see that
it is a hearse,
emptied of contents,
ready to start a new day
with new passengers.
While sun shines above
and euphoria blooms below
the hearse issues
its proclamation.
In that moment
Springstein succumbs to Sisyphus.

Kohelet teaches that
there are times for everything,
even abrupt return
to harsh reality
when all seems ideal
until you pass
a slow moving hearse
traveling in the right lane.



The sleet has stopped.
We want a winter night hour
in the tub.
I’ll shovel a path on the deck.
The cold will shock to start,
but swirling warm water
will cover to our chins.
Let’s go now.
Dinner can wait.
Leave the phone inside.
Like snow on our deck
time can freeze.
We wanted an hour.
Now it’s ours.

The Bard said
man has seven ages.
I think there are more.
He never delighted in
a winter Berkshire night
when the sleet has stopped,
or walked a new path
to warm swirling water
when, despite
grey hair and creaky joints,
we dance into the darkness
and all that follows.


As I leave our bed
wrapped in pleasing memory,
scent of early morning love is over me.
I inhale it lifting first coffee mug
to my lips. It lingers while driving
to Hall’s for the morning paper
and later hovers
as I stand by the easel,
lost in color.
At noon the scent
propels my shovel deeply
into the small hill of mulch, soon
spread over garden beds.
By mid-afternoon the sweetness
has vaporized into Berkshire summer,
but only for the moment.
There will be more mornings,
followed by more scents.

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