The Yellow Marrow

The Yellow Marrow

Guest Commentary

May 12, 2022

Ellen Zhang headshotBy Ellen Zhang

Author’s Note: While working with pediatric patients diagnosed with cancer, I was overwhelmed with emotion at the vulnerability of the young patients, deep love and care of parents, and difficulty of the situation. At the same time, the work was incredibly rewarding. Through conversations with patients and their parents, I was reminded again and again of the trust of patients and how humanity drives medicine. Those ideas are one that I aimed to encapsulate within the following poem inspired by the interactions I saw between parent and child, which drives me to pursue holistic patient care grounded in humanism. 


The Yellow Marrow

inside your brittle frame
so easy to forget after you
slip uneasily into sleep

that december we stood
against pale yellow light
reflections in boston snow

reminders to forget
forgetting reminders amid
cycles of chemotherapy

you nap against me, fragile
and beautiful like a glass of
still milk after an earthquake

when you awake next to me
dusk slinks down steadily as you
ask me the why that leaves me

tongue knotted and I too do not
know why you aren’t in your room
ceiling lit with plastic stars

instead of sterile blue sheets in hospital
beds too large but small enough that
I can crawl beside and hold you tender

when your breathing turns even as
light as hydrangeas unfolding
I close my eyes and tighten my hold


Ms. Zhang is a Harvard Medical Student interested in perusing hematology-oncology. Through writing, she unravels the complexities of medicine. She has been recognized in the International Hippocrates Prize, Williams Carlos Williams Poetry Competition, and Stephen A. Dibase Contest. Her works appear in JAMA, JAMA Oncology, and Hekton International, among others. Disclosure.


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