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Poetry and Medicine
August 26, 1998

Spleen (No. 78)

Author Affiliations

Edited by Charlene Breedlove, Associate Editor.

JAMA. 1998;280(8):674B. doi:10.1001/jama.280.8.674

Splenic translations and Variations
(after Baudelaire)

When the cast iron sky weighs like a lid
on a mind in the thrall of boredom,
and when, from the whole surrounding horizon,
a black day lifts, sadder than any night;
when the world has become a damp dungeon
in which hope, like a bat, flits to and fro
brushing the walls with its timid wings
and knocking its head on rotten ceilings,
when the rain, splaying its long trails,
imitates the bars of a vast prison,
and a silent populace of squalid spiders
comes to root its filaments deep into our brain,
the clocks leap with a sudden fury
and launch a frightening clamor skyward,
wandering, exiled spirits
apply themselves afresh to their relentless whining
—and long hearses, to neither drumbeat nor dirge,
file slowly through me: Hope,
vanquished, weeps, and atrocious anguish, that despot,
hangs its black drape over my bent neck.
* * * *
Ennui is small and has a child-proof lid.
Its skull collapses on each new-born thought.
Its belt's cinched far beyond the tightest fit.
Its life's in acronym on microdot.
Its world's a hospital, all curtains drawn.
They barely flutter with departing breath.
Its ceilings spatter red when Doctor John
nicks the carotid. Oops. That's one for Death.
Ennui is where a million IV lines
surround you like a clutch of prison bars,
and EEG wires' spidery designs
burn into your brain. You're seeing stars?
But, listen—a whole wardfull of afflicted
has risen up and seized the doctors' lounge.
Summon Psych! They have to be evicted!
A blast of Thorazine will knock them down!
That's better. Now secure the coffin lids.
I mean tuck them in. Tee hee. A slip.
And when we've pinned them down on our fine grids,
we'll twirl our black, silk scarves, and then we'll nip.

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