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Poetry and Medicine
February 20, 2008

Serum Sickness

Author Affiliations

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

JAMA. 2008;299(7):734. doi:10.1001/jama.299.7.734

By the time she sits down
it is already late,
well into the syrup-colored skies
of another autumn.
The leaf of basil she picked
to scent olive oil
almost overpowers her.
Chrysanthemums, purchased
as an afterthought with a bag of groceries,
have spindled out of hand.
Low-brow grapes wince
as they creep, still green,
along their trellis—
a length of chain link
behind the convenience store.
To be watered on a whim
is the same as
being watered too much.
To be ogled, handled, squeezed—
it all amounts to a case of nerves.
She dawdles on the porch,
watches for the squirrel,
that prankster
who became her master last summer.
By the time her body realizes it's been had—
too many antibodies in the blood—
it's too late to take back
grimaces, words, and arguments
enhanced by low-grade fever.
She eyes the polish on her nails,
Nantucket Pink this week,
toned down like the season.
Still wet, glistening
like a syringe
with the gleam of overkill.

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