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Poetry and Medicine
December 16, 1998

Facing It

Author Affiliations

Edited by Charlene Breedlove, Associate Editor.

JAMA. 1998;280(23):1988. doi:10.1001/jama.280.23.1988

I suppose you turn on the horizon,
expecting me, both of you on tiptoe,
others bumping past you like pilgrims.
That time when I was five at the Royal Gorge
comes back to haunt me, wandering off
across that swaying bridge a thousand feet
over the fast, white-water Arkansas.
While my father checked the oil and water
and Mother spread sandwiches in the shade
and made my brothers help, I leaned
and spat at that deep drop-off,
watched the white foam arc and shine
until gone. Cars chugged behind me, old cars
that would have to last four years more
during World War II. Don't fall,
some mother called, and I heard my mother
also calling Walt, don't fall!
from back on the canyon rim, helpless
as if afraid her weight might snap the cables
with me precarious and trapped.
Two decades later, I banked an Air Force jet
at 20,000′ and snapped the camera at that bridge
an inch long at arm's length to show you
it was nothing. I held the wingtips vertical,
spiraled down to 500′ above the crowd,
nudged the throttle and climbed
until the bridge was an inch, a quarter inch.
I hummed and held 10,000 pounds of power
in my fist. I flew to Saigon a decade later
and came back to the scramble of surviving,
to children running and tumbling
over dangerous bridges I'd never crossed,
and to my aging father and mother almost gone,
the drawbridge rising while I stood
helpless and waving a few yards away.

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