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Poetry and Medicine
January 22/29, 2003

The Mad Yard

Author Affiliations

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

JAMA. 2003;289(4):395. doi:10.1001/jama.289.4.395

At the Public Hospital, Williamsburg, Virginia, 1884

No other sin but this—
the startling of the body as unexpected
as the black bug that steals out from under the sheet.
"Gross forgetfulness of the self," the doctor says.
But not always, I think back.
Not always the limbs twitching to a drumming
not even I can hear,
some kind of brief and ugly tune
that has scared all my family away.
This is the reason I am here,
for the body rebelling against itself.
I watch the others in the Mad Yard,
dark figures shifting distractedly around the grassy slope,
closing themselves off against the light.
Inside, I make something beautiful,
a painted blue cup with proper writing
I taught myself to do.
T h i n k  o f  M e  it says
as if it could talk to you.
Hand jiggles like a tipsy man
and blackout
like evening comes—
Cold floor troubles the head—
The blue cup broken but not beyond repair.
I know what is to come.
There will be no stone for me
in the field where the unremembered sleep.
But perhaps someone will find the broken cup
buried like a secret in the yard beyond
and see how an unschooled hand could write
words that would be heard long after I am gone.

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