RX: A Poetic Act of Resistance and Resilience


August 4, 2020

Poet Elizabeth Paulson with her Grandmother. Covid is rampant in the Pacific Islander community and the writer wanted to use this opportunity to destigmatize mask wearing.

RX: A Poetic Act of Resistance and Resilience

What gives us olaga
What gives us soifua maloloina

The rationed insulin

                                                The hard pills to swallow

Only heal the



What prescription 

            Can be written

                                    To heal the 


                                                                        We have 


Our hypertension

            Is a reflection 

                        Of the stress 

                                    And salty diets forced upon us

                               As our culture was stolen

What could I prescribe

            Our diabetes

                        Are from the

                                    Sugar Sweet Keys


                                                            Locks we long to open

What could I prescribe

            For our kidney failure

                        When we can no longer filter

                                                What is us

                                                            What is them

                        When we need to


                                                The essence of what we were

                                                            To live a life

                                                We are not meant to

                                                            To adopt

                        Words, ways, woes

                                                That are not ours to


What could I prescribe

            For the transgenerational trauma

                                    Rooted in my ancestors

                                                That grows in

                                                            My people today

Like the undertow

Pulling us

To the past

                        The generational


                                                Of losing more of our island

                                                                        Every year

What medications, treatments, procedures

                        Could I prescribe

            To heal my people

As a student

            A product of toil, taro, and toa

            A first generation college student

            An advocate wanting to fix everything

The only thing I can do

            Is go to class

            Honor my ancestors

            And persevere


About the writer: I am Elizabeth Anne Mailo Paulson, a south end Seattleite afakasi, mixed Samoan and white. (The literal translation is "someone who is half caste"). I am pictured above, with my Grandmother. Covid is rampant in the Pacific Islander community and I wanted to use this opportunity to destigmatize mask wearing, especially among the older generations.  

I am a graduate student in the Health Management and Policy dual program at Oregon Health and Science and Portland State University’s School of Public Health. My work has been published in Western Washington University’s “Jeopardy Magazine” and “Hunger Mountain”.

When working in public health, the ability to convert difficult concepts into easily understood layman’s terms is an often emphasized skill. However, complex and nuanced ideas can be just as difficult for trained healthcare professionals to grasp.

For many, the concept of pervasive systemic racism in healthcare escapes their understanding. This is despite their many years in the field leaving no positive change for minority populations.

This is where I believe the impact of creative work can create better healthcare opportunities. 

Poetry is important to my work because (creative ) writing brings empathy and humanity to healthcare. Poetry fills in the gaps that “formal” methods of communication and learning, such as textbooks and lectures, leave out.

In my experience, lectures left me frustrated. While we learned about multiple health disparities affecting the Samoan community, we did not discuss what solutions could look like. For decades, members of my community have been ravaged by obesity related diseases such as diabetes and kidney disease. 

The effects of colonialism are not only the root of our health disparities but the largest disease itself. In order to improve the health of my community, steps of decolonization must be taken. Through poetry, I can be a part of that journey.

Poetry is an act of resistance. Poetry is an act of resilience. Poetry is a bridge that connects humanity and science. 

Elizabeth is a winner of OHSU Library's annual poetry contest. Her poem is archived in the Library’s Digital Collections and will also be showcased in the OHSU Library entrance.  Winning poets will be invited to read their poems at the Medicine as Poetry, Poetry as Medicine event, to be held spring of 2021.

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