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Poetry and Medicine
June 2, 2010

The Day My Daughter Fell

Author Affiliations

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

JAMA. 2010;303(21):2116. doi:10.1001/jama.2010.611

We left her in the stroller
for a fraction of an instant, I swear, not a second more
than two eyeblinks and a turn of the head,
before she rose to standing, facing backwards,
laughing like a little girl
who's never been hurt.
A moment only, the heart contracts, 
the breath slides into my chest, and I glance sideways 
at the way late sunlight turns to copper 
in the dancing hairs of a squirrel's tail
at the thinnest end of the longest branch 
of our centuries old oak, its span
rigid as a mother 
waiting for the child to come home after nightfall.
Only a moment, less than a lightning strike, 
a selfish, wandering thought, scampering around my skull,
for an instant my attention
simply somewhere else,
and she is falling, has fallen, it is over.
Before diastole, before the air escapes my lips, 
before the lightning touches ground, 
her forehead bleeding, the single cut not wide, but deep,
a scarlet exclamation in the pale plane of her perfect brow.
“Blood!” she screams, “blood!” And she's right, 
there's a bleeding faucet on her scalp,
red tributaries stream with tears
to etch a map that leads
into a forest on fire where we run, ourselves
close to burning, guilty and primal,
to douse our flaming daughter.
And yes, the scar has grown smaller, fainter, her memory 
of the moment following behind, so that she brings it up
now three years later, almost never.
But they are not gone, memory and scar, 
the dimple on her forehead a reminder
that pain will find her,
no matter how fierce our embrace, no matter what shield we make
of our slowly aging bodies, the world will cut her, 
and one day she’ll break free of us.
A reminder to be grateful 
for those moments when she bleeds
and lets us wipe the blood away. 

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