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Poetry and Medicine
September 3, 2008

Zoster

Author Affiliations
 

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

JAMA. 2008;300(9):1002. doi:10.1001/jama.300.9.1002

They say in Hell, The tigers of wrath
are wiser than the horses of instruction.
A year later, my left eye and forehead
start to smolder as soon as I wake up,
which makes me rub them like crazy,
especially the tip of my eyebrow’s
peculiar burning that gets worse when I press
the hair against its grain, but I can't resist
doing it, not just once, but enough times
to wince in a spate of flagellation.
Invisible by mirror, my forehead flares
until I douse its embers in the shower.
A skinwalker stands behind my right arm
and, when I least expect it, makes me
rub my palm into my scalp, as if
polishing a car. Two weeks of painful rash
followed a year's estrangement from
a wedge of face, the compulsion to touch,
the conviction that freedom eggs us on,
but doesn't deliver, the understanding
that there are dead ends I can't back up from,
and something like guilt, I guess, for not
making more of myself before wearing out.

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