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Poetry and Medicine
June 18, 2008

Building a Bookshelf

Author Affiliations

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

JAMA. 2008;299(23):2721. doi:10.1001/jama.299.23.2721

Your hands: grand rotting cathedrals,
buckskin inebriate Brillos, two huge cowcuffers.
I once watched them rend plywood, hammer spikes
into blocks, every test a fight, the carpentry
learned in the army. The black-white photograph:
your big mitts taped up and shoved into boxing gloves.
Now your hands are demented, they fly at buttons,
they skitter and slapdash, they are shells, relics
of purpose. We put together the bookshelf
plank by plank, and those airplane wings
are undecided, fumble with a nail, drop a hammer.
You with the tremor and the grip strength of irony,
with paretic limbs. Each screw excruciates,
won't go in, won't tighten. I take the driver from you.
You look to me to tell you next,
and I tell you what I never thought I would:
Let me handle it.

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