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Poetry and Medicine
January 23/30, 2013


Author Affiliations

Poetry and Medicine Section Editor: Charlene Breedlove, Associate Editor. Poems may be submitted to

Author Affiliation: Easton, Pennsylvania (

JAMA. 2013;309(4):324. doi:10.1001/jama.2012.14132

Why was she hiding her hands?
Ashamed of her fingernails, curved
like beaks, and terrified that the bird
of death had made his nest in her lungs,
as he had. I wish I had photographed
her hands without a cigarette, or your hands
removing the tumor, the way Paul Strand
photographed Georges Braque's hands
in quiet repose on a stone the shape of
his trepanned skull. The encyclopedic
left thumb reads the letter of the burr hole.
Where have these hands been? Cross-hatched
windows of skin look out over pools
of knuckles narrating line after line
of the hands' work and the life lived.
Between the tender bed and the nails,
the quarter moon of infancy presides,
its sweet face pressed against the keratin shell.
Scaling the dorsal venous mountain range,
these hands have gripped the palms of
fellow climbers. In love's anguished mime,
they are finger birds with nerves of wire.
They could have painted a portrait
of my mother breathing the infinite sky.

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