The history of a hospital– in a poetry collection!

Over the past three years, one object of my writing obsession has been the hospital in Brooklyn where my grandmother completed her nurse’s training as a young Irish immigrant. The nurse’s residence was the address on her marriage certificate. It was called Unity Hospital, located in Crown Heights. I dove into newspaper archives, reading tragic and heroic accounts of the role that Unity Hospital played in people’s lives. I’ve written a poetry collection for adults, UNITY HOSPITAL, that spans the 50 years that the hospital was in existence. It’s out on submission now.

The poems are in the voices of an array of women who intersected with the hospital in some way: nurses, patients, a candy striper, a switchboard operator, new mothers, a “pantry girl,” a woman who died from a botched 1952 abortion, a newspaper reporter, a medical clerk, and more. Many of the poems were inspired by news accounts.


Passager is a journal and press for writers over 50

And one of the poems was selected for a beautiful journal, out now, called PASSAGER! So here’s a peek at one voice from Unity Hospital– an emergency room nurse in 1947. More to come soon, hopefully!

My poem, “Silent,” from UNITY HOSPITAL

The text of the poem:


Emergency room nurse, 1947


Barely 20,

he huddles silent on the gurney,

all knuckles and knees.

One eye wide,

one swollen shut.

He’s not talking,

but I can read the story on his body—




Some punks worked him over like a side of beef.

They nearly killed my brother that way—

tried to beat the sissy out of him,

like this kid.

It won’t work, bastards.

It won’t work.


On Fridays, I love taking part in Poetry Friday when I can, where writers share resources about children’s poetry. This week, Rose hosts the Poetry Friday Roundup on her blog Imagine the Possibilities. Check out the celebration of poetry there today!


  1. mbhmaine says:

    Wow! This sounds like such a fabulous project! The poem you shared is so powerful and I can only imagine the impact of all the accumulated voices when read together. I’m fascinated by your idea and hope you hear positive news soon!

  2. lindabaie says:

    This sounds wonderful, Mary, especially since it starts with your own family connection. I looked up “Passager”, intriguing word that became “Passenger”. I’ll be sure to find the journal and congratulations for your poem’s publication! I love “but I can read the story on his body—”. I guess many medical people would know exactly what you mean. Best wishes for your own book, too!

  3. Denise Krebs says:

    Mary, what a great topic for a collection of poems and a beautiful celebration of the Unity Hospital. Congratulations on your poem being accepted into Passager.

  4. cvarsalona says:

    Mary, since I love anything historical, I find your newest writing to be quite interesting. From what you shared, I am sure it will be a treasure. Congratulations on your poem appearing in the Passager. Best of luck on your submissions.

  5. Mary, Congratulations on your poem being published and best wished for your submission of your collection to be accepted! What a great idea – there’s so much to gleen from the past – especially from a hospital setting. I was a nurse and worked in a variety of settings – including an intensive care unit for babies, but none, I am sure like what images your book will invoke. I look forward to reading it in the future. Thanks!

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