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Poetry and Medicine
April 9, 2003

Temporary Distraction

Author Affiliations
 

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

JAMA. 2003;289(14):1744. doi:10.1001/jama.289.14.1744

"Smile," says the old man in the Triple A parking lot
when I cross his path as if he's stone or air—
as if I can't see farther than what's troubling me—
my face closed tight against the world.
He's pushed a button and my lips react,
curve themselves into the shape he wants.
"There. I knew you could," he says.
I imagine telling him what's on my mind:
Pap smears and gynecologists, my daughter's health and mine;
why her periods, suddenly, are too long, mine too short.
I imagine his response:
how he'd nod and pat my arm,
reassure me with a word or two.
And though I do not stop to chat—
for that would be as out of character as
a bashful child jumping up to sing—
my smile widens and turns real,
melting inward like a flood of warmth,
as when a song you've always loved
comes on the radio and fills you up again,
if only for a moment.

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