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Poetry and Medicine
June 24, 1998


Author Affiliations

Edited by Charlene Breedlove, Associate Editor.

JAMA. 1998;279(24):1930AT. doi:10.1001/jama.279.24.1930

My sympathetic nervous system I tell the doc
as if I know the medico lingo, is in a snit
worse than the trailer park the storm tore up
the day before. Relax, he says, breathe in,
breathe out as if the breathing doesn't matter,
don't even think your lungs may never fill again
I wish he'd tell me how the breath will empty out
until I'm blessed in absences and then the lungs
will fill like wings and lift me way beyond the trees
and down and up and down and up again.
He won't though. He just says, Relax, relax.
My daughters, hovering like receiving angels
near the tremble I've become, they've learned it too,
the doctor's mantra:Relax, they chant, relax.
I wish out loud that they at least will say
some home truths I can live with like
they used to, like Come on Daddy-O,
forget what's eating at you like a hungry crab.
You've never liked your stomach anyway.
Instead, they say, Relax, relax.
No thanks, I think. No thanks.
I'll write my own prescription, take
the next plane east and overseas to Thessalonika,
have an old olive woman teach me Greek.
I'll sit in a rainy cafe, drink ouzo by the fat carafe,
forget to work things out, sneeze into my Sophocles.

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