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Poetry and Medicine
February 18, 1998

Oncogene

Author Affiliations
 

Edited by Charlene Breedlove, Associate Editor.

JAMA. 1998;279(7):488U. doi:10.1001/jama.279.7.488

Before eyes, before eye color, before
fingers, before breath and cry, it was there.
Nothing to be seen or touched, something more
like a current, a stirring of the air.
When he stood by his desk in second grade
muttering through the pledge of allegiance,
it was there. At ten, the first time he played
cello solos before an audience,
it was there. A readiness in the cells,
an occult passion for growth. When he dreamed,
it was there as the secrets a ghost tells
while the wind shifts. In moonlight as it gleamed
through lids half open in sleep, it was there.
It was there when he ran beside a creek
at first light, taking the sharp winter air
into the soft tissue of lungs grown weak
now, though he is only forty years old,
though he was strong, though it began somewhere
deep in his bones. That day when he was told,
he already knew. It was always there.

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