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Poetry and Medicine
December 22/29, 1999

Staghorn

Author Affiliations
 

Edited by Charlene Breedlove, Associate Editor.

JAMA. 1999;282(24):2280. doi:10.1001/jama.282.24.2280

In the penumbral gut of a winter afternoon,
behind the shoulder's scrawling bittersweet,
the staghorn sumac branched, wick to flame.
January slipped from windshield to rearview,
a sleight of landscape: spring, just over the next rise
of salt and tar, beyond the FOOD and FUEL.
Stumped, we'd stared at backlit shadows. Well?
Beside stalled boxcars, in a chylous fog,
white antlers branched. Staghorn calculus, sir,
offered John, who always knew. Struvite
precipitates in alkaline urine
and forms a cast of the renal calyces,
suggesting the presence of infection
with the urea-splitting bacillus,
Proteus mirabilis.
What miraculous transformations—
staghorn fern, coral, sculpin; piss chalices
riddling the flanks of senator and saint;
within each branch, a bear's claw,
between the sheets, the patient, gored by stone,
and never a deer in sight, except the glyph
a wag daubed rudolf-red for Xmas, X ing.

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