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Poetry and Medicine
April 17, 2002

On Seeing

Author Affiliations

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

JAMA. 2002;287(15):1906. doi:10.1001/jama.287.15.1906

Before I recognize its name,
Le Pantheon pulls me in—
and I begin to wrestle
with involuntary memory
and to fix Paris
by tuning the blueness down
and by sharpening up
the monumental domed building
and by removing a number
of isolated figures
that litter the street, and I move
to the left a bit and step from the curb
between two blinkered cars
parked in their forbidden spots
with the thrusting belfry
of Saint Etienne-du-Mont up front
and nearly nobody left
on the ground—a red Vespa
swerves, swearing, from offstage
with a leather woman
riding its back and penetrates
my aura and almost grazes
my thigh. How terrified I am
to have come so close
to my hide being pierced!
And what an obscene gesture
she makes! Of this, Dufy has caught
no trace in his rendering
of the scene. Only the black lamp
he put at the base of the street
with its uterus-like filament
suggests her finger. If she isn't
a drunk, or damaged by despair,
the diminishing maniac
must be startled out of her wits
and as baffled as I am.
As she disappears to the left
of St Etienne, I teeter
on the cusp of my next step,
Michelin in hand, toward the dome
of Napoleon's grave,
and the fumes of her exhaust
have begun, already,
to dissipate.

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