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Poetry and Medicine
December 8, 1999

Side Effects

Author Affiliations

Edited by Charlene Breedlove, Associate Editor.

JAMA. 1999;282(22):2102. doi:10.1001/jama.282.22.2102

They first appear on the pillowcase,
refugees from a war camp, empty-handed,
lackluster. Then they fall from the air
misguided paratroopers aiming for white
dinner plates. I choose avoidance,
embargo all brushes and combs,
retreat from mirrors, reconnoiter
in the shower, where one day, without
thought, I blast the scalp with shampoo,
dig fingernails in like trenchers
only to find hands full of hair—hair
falling down my back like mudslides.
Oh, Herr Doktor, Herr Doktor, Achtung! Achtung!
Does anyone do this without a scream,
make a peaceful surrender to ambush?
Look down into a pool of dark hair
where toes peer out, uneasy, out of place.
Think after the scream, after
the tears, of Buddhist nuns
chanting at sunset, faces serene,
bodies relaxed,
think of fallen sparrows
and of every hair on your head
being counted,
being known.

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