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Poetry and Medicine
November 24, 2010

In Praise of Virtue

Author Affiliations

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

JAMA. 2010;304(20):2218. doi:10.1001/jama.2010.1540

A student twitches in her seat,
irked at my wasting her time.
Fidelity, fortitude, compassion—
what a moldy scent they exude!
She wants content, words cut
from a block of granite, words
built with bricks from the ground up,
not old sheets waving in the wind.
Virtue! No wonder she Googles
an alternate route. To her, virtue
is either fraudulent, or a track
too deep in the thalamus
to count. Pixel by pixel,
my student fades, and I start
to blurt, Wait!Wait! But don’t.
I yearn to juggle four words
at once while walking on stilts,
to twist my face into a clown's
and capture her attention, to make
her giggle with delight, but
only a wisp remains in the room.
Too late. I wanted to warn her
that words with cleats on their soles
grind and abrade. Too soon.
I wanted to show her the bruises.

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