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Poetry and Medicine
April 7, 2004

Lockjaw

Author Affiliations
 

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

JAMA. 2004;291(13):1540. doi:10.1001/jama.291.13.1540

It isn't the rusty nail, its veneer
of surrender to oxygen—
it's the stab that pierces
your sneaker and ferries
the agents of its fetor,
dark-loving terrorists of rot
injected, invasion into
soft white flesh, defenseless.
It isn't the barbed wire
when it flays your calf
as if opened by
the bloodletter's lancet; it isn't
the vengeful spike of lying-in-wait—
it's the cowshit in the field beneath,
ferment of rumen, abomasum,
omasum, reticulum,
and their air-rejecting
sporulating throng.
And it isn't the thrust and cut
of her Goodbye! the slammed door
like a bruise, the dagger
of rejection; it isn't
dead bloody quiet
and a festered wound of hours—
it's some toxin from within,
self-derogation and mitosis
of the guilt that overcomes
your failed defense of blame.
Then come spasm & paralysis,
your lips stretched in the rictus
of terminal denial—
joint and sinew locked, surprised
when she turns the key,
unprepared for light and air
that could dissolve the poison
but fail because you have no breath
for Sorry!

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