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Poetry and Medicine
April 23/30, 2003

Dipping Achilles

JAMA. 2003;289(16):2036. doi:10.1001/jama.289.16.2036

She came today with an ulcer on her heel
along the Achilles tendon.
It hurt to walk, and when she
bumped it by mistake
an electric shock ran up her leg
to a central place.
Fired from work, foreclosed from home,
she held her 3-pound grandchild. Elsewhere,
that dope-strung daughter wore short pants and laughed
as her husband cocked with drugs and guns.
You there, rocking the blue child,
will you dip him in the river Styx by
his pliant heel and baptize him Achilles,
or simply hold him as he dies?
I said that maybe as an infant you
had had an ankle dipping, conferring grief,
and that this wound so slow to heal
might mark a change,
a turning to a lifted life, and
your belly laugh surprised us both.

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