A Haiku About Gallbladder Surgery (Yes, Really)

Rather frequently, someone asks me if I ever expect to write fiction. My answer: To me, fiction writing is a sort of magic. It is miraculous, this process of creating fully formed human characters from one’s imagination and writing multi-layered, moving, thrilling, tears-and-laughter-inducing stories about them. I can’t begin to imagine how one performs such a miracle.

I feel this way about poetry too. When someone says, “I am a poet,” I want to sit them down so they can tell me what that means. How does one become a poet? How does one be a poet?

Nonfiction is my thing. Making nonfiction as appealing to read as fiction is my thing. I write nonfiction in my head for a good portion of every day, and on this computer monitor as often as I can. It is not always easy (in fact, it is rarely easy). But it is home. Fiction and poetry are places I might like to visit some day. But I cannot imagine them becoming my home.

So I was surprised to find myself last Friday, at the Festival of Faith and Writing, attending workshop after workshop not about the craft of nonfiction writing, about platform or blogging or self-promotion—all topics that have great relevance at this time in my writing career—but about fiction and poetry.

Also at the Festival, I met the lovely Sarah Koops Vanderveen (a fellow Redbud writer), who explained that her response to feeling a bit “stuck” after years of being a mom to her sons was to start a blog on which she would write a poem every day for a year. (You can read Sarah’s year’s worth of poems, and more, on her blog Once by the Pacific, which is also the title of her soon-to-be released book featuring poems and photographs.)

And I began to think, OK, maybe I could try this poetry thing. I’m pretty sure I can’t write really good poetry. I know very little about poetry. I don’t even read all that much poetry. But if I take that intimidating word—poetry—out of the mix, and instead ask myself if I’m capable of writing short collections of carefully selected words, with the goal of expressing something with fewer words, and perhaps more effectively, than I could express it via nonfiction, then I begin to feel that maybe I can do this. Write poems.

So I may do that on occasion here (and probably more often in private)—cobble together a gathering of words that can be loosely referred to as a poem. My poems will not be very good. But for me, that’s not the point. Rather, I’m hoping that in experimenting with a literary form that is uncomfortable and new for me, I might also learn how to string words together more effectively, and beautifully, in my nonfiction work.

Today’s poem is a reflection on my husband’s gallbladder surgery tomorrow, which we hope will put an end to seven years of periodic episodes of debilitating stomach pain:


On Daniel’s Surgery

Out with the gallbladder.

Nothing says more clearly—

This is middle age.






About Ellen Painter Dollar

Ellen Painter Dollar is a writer focusing on faith, parenting, family, disability, and ethics. She is the author of No Easy Choice: A Story of Disability, Faith, and Parenthood in an Age of Advanced Reproduction (Westminster John Knox, 2012). Visit her web site at http://ellenpainterdollar.com for more on her writing and speaking, and to sign up for a (very) occasional email newsletter.

  • http://www.michellevanloon.com Michelle Van Loon

    Part of the delight of FFW is the ability to hear speakers outside of your own writing/reading zone. I did a bit of that myself while there as well.
    Just for fun, a favorite haiku memory: When my kids were in their early teens, we were watching the winter Olympics together, and we were all writing haiku (haikus?) about the various events. Imagine a haiku or five about curling!

  • Sandy Bass

    Love the first attempt and am praying all goes well with Daniel’s surgery.

  • http://eatwithjoy.org Rachel Stone

    Um, I LOVE THIS!!!

  • Tim

    I thought you said your poems would not be very good?


  • Taffy Wilcox

    Welcome home and good luck, Daniel. I felt great after mine was removed.

    On another note, have you found a dog?


    • http://www.ellenpainterdollar.com Ellen Painter Dollar

      Yes! We are getting him next week. I will post photos here at some point. He’s a border collie mix/true mutt. Lovely, calm disposition without Eddie’s anxiety. We are hoping for the best!

      • Taffy Wilcox

        Hooray! I can not wait to “meet” him.

        I hope your patient is doing okay.

  • Marlene Molewyk

    Ellen, your haiku is good! I really didn’t care much for poetry until the past few years, when I realized that songs are poetry set to music (think Sara Groves). Since then, my interest in poetry has been growing, and I’m kinda wishing I attended one of the poetry workshops at FFW!

  • http://www.ellenpainterdollar.com Ellen Painter Dollar

    Aw shucks. Thanks y’all for telling me my poem is not bad! It was fun to write.

  • http://olderthanjesus.blogspot.com Alison Hodgson

    Kinda show-offy, Ellen. I love whimsical haiku.

    • http://www.ellenpainterdollar.com Ellen Painter Dollar

      Well I am a total show off, so now you know! Seriously though, this came out way better than I expected. I cannot promise that subsequent efforts will be as successful.

  • Mike Fay


    I loved the poem too. (I don’t really like poety that much generally, but liked this one).

    I hope Daniel feels better.