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Poetry and Medicine
May 20, 1998

Spleen (No. 76)

Author Affiliations

Edited by Charlene Breedlove, Associate Editor.

JAMA. 1998;279(19):1508Q. doi:10.1001/jama.279.19.1508

Splenic translations and variations
(after Baudelaire)

I have more memories than a thousand-year-old man
A huge desk, drawers stuffed with balance sheets,
poems, love letters, subpoenas, romances,
and thick locks of hair rolled up in receipts,
hides fewer secrets than my sad skull.
It's a pyramid, an immense cavern
that holds more dead than a common grave.
—I am the cemetery even the moon hates
where, like remorse, long worms drag themselves along
and always attack my most dear dearly departed first.
I am an old boudoir full of threadbare roses.
Here lies a jumble of loud, outdated styles.
And piteous pastels and exsanguinated landscapes
inhale in solitude the fumes of uncorked flasks.
Nothing rivals the length of these limping days
when, under the heavy flakes of years,
boredom, fruit of a dismal indifference,
assumes the proportions of immortality.
—From now on, life, you're nothing but
granite menaced on all sides by frightful waves,
nodding off in the depths of a foggy Sahara;
an old sphinx ignored by an indifferent world,
left off the maps, and to whose ferocious hilarity
only the rays of a sinking sun are audience.
Nothing shocks me. Nope. I've seen it all.
All humours, blood, bile, lymph and melanchol.
Every complaint from scurf to fallen womb,
lies pickled in my brain as in a tomb
between commodes and wooden legs and phlegm.
The almost-dead are plucking at my hem
as I pass among them on my morning rounds.
—Others snooze inside the charnel grounds
of memory, that moonless helminths' hill
strewn with all the latest useless pills.
I am a sickroom full of bloody noses.
the body seems to sigh, then decomposes.
A Norman Rockwell print sags on my wall:
young Johnnie huffing isopropanol.
What's longer than a clinic afternoon?
Patients blizzard through consulting rooms;
boredom, bastard son of apathy,
pins me, wriggling, to mortality.
—Adieu, compassion! I pronounce you dead,
a chunk of rock besieged by overfed
dyspepsiacs and ever-hungry ghosts.
I'm an old sawbones, despised by HMOs,
AMA-reject, whose midnight guffaws fall
flat, face down, in the empty clinic hall.

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