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Poetry and Medicine
November 21, 2012

The Rock

Author Affiliations
 

Poetry and Medicine Section Editor: Charlene Breedlove, Associate Editor. Poems may be submitted to jamapoems@jama-archives.org.

Author Affiliation: Department of Preventive Medicine, State University of New York at Stony Brook (jcoulehan@stonybrookmedicine.edu).

JAMA. 2012;308(19):1955. doi:10.1001/jama.2012.13267

If anyplace was safe to discuss
the rock at the nape of my neck,
it was Doctor Werner's office,
at his anonymous address
on Bellefield, a brick house
with a porch and double buzzer.
The steps to the second floor
had sealed lips. The flow was such
that one patient walked out
the back before the next
came in. So my muscle-bound
boulder was secure.
Each morning I lifted it
as ballast, a composite
mineral made of my boss,
bad breaks, and fear of failure—
or so I thought. The doctor,
in his cautious Austrian
mumble, suggested I
had misconstrued the rock—
perhaps it consisted, he said,
of fear of success. Success?
The life I’d broken my back
to get? How could it be
that I sabotaged myself?
Sixteen weeks, sixteen
imperious glances
toward the clock, until my
insurance ran out—we
had to part. I escaped the pain
of chiseling to the core,
my rock as heavy, but less sore.

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