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Poetry and Medicine
January 21, 1998

Chekhov's Doctors

Author Affiliations

Edited by Charlene Breedlove, Associate Editor.

JAMA. 1998;279(3):182. doi:10.1001/jama.279.3.182

It's one of those winter nights
when every time you stop
a drink of vodka grabs you
closer to the mournful shore.
That's what I sing to my friends
on our way to visit the whores.
Romantic Vassilyev holds back,
muttering about the circumstance
that brings girls here—their poverty,
the grimness of their peasant life,
the strangling city, his pangs
of social conscience. He has yet
to fathom the world beyond his books—
or to learn the harlots' lingerie
he keeps flicking his eyes from
is not just a mistake of bad taste,
but has a definite purpose.
Vassilyev sits close to the wall
of a purple salon, patiently
asking his whore, how did you come
here? what is the meaning of this?
He is startled by her blank
inanimate stare as she asks him
to buy her a drink. What blinders
the man has! He thinks that vice
is attractive only when it wears
the mask of virtue. If I had
the money to take him a step
beyond his grandmotherly
scruples, he'd soon see that lust
contributes more to man's life
than baring the soul. Vassilyev,
my friend, they have a hundred
thousand whores in London—
ten times the whores we have
in Moscow. That's my perspective.
You'd think a dose of reality
would help Vassilyev get himself
together, but he is weak-kneed.
The whores laid him out—in bed,
where he gnashes and weeps for days
at a time. What sort of a friend
is this?They are alive! he sobs,
My God, those women are alive!

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