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Poetry and Medicine
January 28, 2009

The Laying On of Hands

Author Affiliations

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

JAMA. 2009;301(4):360. doi:10.1001/jama.2008.841

Priests offered it in weekly benediction to bless
after chants and motets, in Eucharist
or Mass, to magnify a union or to heal
the sick. Doves were sometimes released.
Lovers do it too. The caress—careless or casual.
The home from work, the comfort me, or the moment
when hands become all scent and skin; the arch of wrist,
the smooth palm and pure white fingernail tip.
So doctors learned it, palpated sick limbs, gauged temperatures,
pulses; probed chests, abdomens and necks to fathom symptoms,
interrogate signs. But now machines seek better, deeper,
further, filling the walls with images, bright and cold.

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