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Poetry and Medicine
September 13, 2000

The VIP Patient

Author Affiliations

Poetry and Medicine Section Editor: Charlene Breedlove, Associate Editor.

JAMA. 2000;284(10):1213. doi:10.1001/jama.284.10.1213

From the cell phone in his car
he tells me who he is, the kind of man
who puts mountains in deep holes
and sells what's left, rolled flat and paved.
Right now he's lost and I guide him in.
The directions echo for the wife.
She drives, he talks. I listen and watch,
looking at the city from the window.
He tells me he can see the river,
a canoe floating with the current
going east, paddles resting on the gunnels.
The light changes, the road follows the river
but traffic is slow and the boat disappears
around a bend, dragging its brown wake,
the river high and muddy with all the rain.
The next part is tricky.
The road started as a cow path and winds around
the downtown mall, indifferent to directions
such as due east half a mile then south.
He finds the old dairy, now a microbrewery,
and he shifts to ice cream, a boy's memory.
A scoop of vanilla was yellow as a rose,
spooned petal by petal from steel bowls,
the cold delicious ache behind the eyes.
Straight through shanty town and he reports
the action at the mini-mart, a crowd of men and boys.
Someone's down, he's up, the crowd laughs,
brown bags are passed around, a bike falls.
Right on Main, and I see the big car
peek around a corner then choose a place to park,
the wife slips it in backwards, without a ripple.
He finds the curb with his cane and takes her hand,
eyes closed he strains and then he's up,
uncrouched, wobbling towards me unassisted.

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