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Poetry and Medicine
October 20, 2010

DNA Damage Pathways

Author Affiliations

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

JAMA. 2010;304(15):1645. doi:10.1001/jama.2010.1346

There are mechanisms, one learns,
for the tiniest flaws.
At the most essential of levels
the spiral staircase so infinitely identical
and minutely disparate
is, it turns out, quite human.
One hundred thousand and thousand thousand
breaks and strains
and stains
and loose ends and
frayed connections, every day.
One empathizes with the least relatable of molecules
—wanting to buy coffee, offer a sad smile.
How do the atoms face such chaos?
How do the Adams?
The daily bombardments
of toxins and tumors,
of pestilence and plutonium,
of burning sun and
broken symmetry
knocking ion and idealist alike out of orbit.
When the sulfur bridge falls
and bonds reach into the void in vain,
what do they meet in the darkness?
the cataclysmic end of wayward immunity,
the tearing up and starting over of an ill-timed division,
but simplicity:
a snip here, a switch there,
a gentle push towards correction
or tolerance.
The hardy imperfects, targeted for scrutiny,
imprinted for self-criticism,
in surviving are allowed to survive.
Encouraged, even. Embraced.
The code nudges the misfit,
understanding frailty,
guiding the twisted and bent past the revolving gauntlet
to be made whole.
Meanwhile one wears sunscreen,
shields the heart,
A cosmos shamed by the generosity of the merest motes
struggles toward the warmth of a million
billion tiny acts of acceptance.
Forgiveness is inherent in the Architecture.
Ms Friedman's poem won the Michael E. DeBakey Medical Student Poetry Award for 2010.—ED.

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