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Poetry and Medicine
October 10, 2001

The Bookbinder

Author Affiliations

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

JAMA. 2001;286(14):1682. doi:10.1001/jama.286.14.1682

You were first to pedal to the breakwater,
swerving past the mental hospital
to watch for seaward birds
and vanish in the roses.
You would sit without an inch turned back,
writing in that book you bound
and stuffed with the first stems of the year
that you envied all the falcons
when their shadows wound away
from the patients on the porticos.
You feared your cousin Alan there,
wincing with his voice square-toned,
looking everywhere for his convictions and their grace—
he tried to tease them from the shards of a smile—
maybe he could roll up his plaid sleeves to the elbows
or check the finger where he once was married—
but everything was empty.
Then a memory of how the tide
runs fresh with the moon
made you a psychiatric nurse.
It's another way to be a bookbinder;
you gather his old words,
the ones he had before those mute swan voices
rolled over him;
you tuck his life behind the frontispiece.
When others heal, but never Alan,
you try an incantation
to release those syllables bound tight,
a magic wheel whose leather thong
winds his husks of words
and sends them free into the dawn.
When you have bound the book
and let its contents serry out,
press clovers in it for your patients
and their cancelled dreams;
Six-leafed clover is for marriage,
for the woman paring down her Christmas meal
to lace on gingerbread.
Five leaves are lucky if you give them up,
bad fortune not to.
You'll press these for the man who hoards
whatever he can tie with baler twine.
Four leaves, most-likely-to-succeed
well-rounded fortune:
save these until you don't know why
and the shoreline roses answer
with the clamor of their flowers.

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