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Poetry and Medicine
September 10, 2008

When They Tell Me

Author Affiliations

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

JAMA. 2008;300(10):1122. doi:10.1001/jama.300.10.1122

the psychologist,
the therapist,
the nurse practitioner,
and the intern,
we are crowded
in one office.
They inhale
what little air is left,
the breath
I imagine
they collectively take
each time the diagnosis
is given,
when the word
is still fresh
and hangs
in the air. Why do we say
the diagnosis is given
when so much is taken away?
I take my time to respond,
my eyes wandering to the art
of children framed
along the office wall,
and I can not stop myself
from rising,
from deliberately
reading the labels
telling me these drawings
were done by autistic
children in Russia.
I am the only one
standing, the rest
still waiting. Suddenly I laugh,
and I am not sure
if I have laughed to myself
or aloud in front of them.
If I could just at this moment,
lead them home,
take them to my room,
show my bedside table
piled with books overdue:
the woman who talks with gorillas,
the one who thinks in pictures,
the son who loves windows,
those who see smells,
paint prismatic paintings
and catalog clouds.
If I could open my journal
point to the pages
where I have dared
to write the word.
It is just what I have known
for so long: I wonder
if I have brought this on.

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