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Poetry and Medicine
September 9, 2009

Learning to Tie My Shoes

Author Affiliations

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

JAMA. 2009;302(10):1040. doi:10.1001/jama.2009.1225

At the end of his first school physical at my office
more than twenty years ago, the boy
noticed my shoes were coming untied.
He was the fragile X syndrome, last on my schedule so he’d get more time.
With no acute problems and only a handful of the stigmata,
our visit was unexpectedly brief: mild developmental delay,
the ears, the heart, double joints, flat feet.
No sore throats or headaches had walked in for urgent care.
When he offered to teach me how to tie a better bow,
his beautiful mother nodded, and I accepted.
First the simple-knot, like always,
one end of the shoelace will be shorter—
pinch that into a loop and wrap the long end around twice,
twice is the secret that makes it a better bow.
Pull the second loop through, then tighten both like always, see?
I think of this small bent-over teacher with his big ears
when I put boots on to hike over broken ground,
or dress formally for a ballroom or a poetry reading,
grateful for shoelaces I know I won't trip over.
If he is alive now he is nearly the age I was
when he taught me to tie my shoes.
I like to think he is still teaching others
how to grasp that short end.

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