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Poetry and Medicine
January 5, 2005


Author Affiliations

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

JAMA. 2005;293(1):14. doi:10.1001/jama.293.1.14

Enter through the door marked “Linac 4.”
Take the tiny towel, for false
modesty is always better than none. Now
drop your trousers, mount the table,
bring your bony knees
upward to your chest while they
insert the rectal balloon, inflate it,
give it a tug. Let them tie your feet together
and give you the rubber ring to squeeze
what little comfort you can from misdirection.
Let them levitate you and then
apply the ultrasound gel, the prescient probe,
adjusting the planning parameters
with the computer’s sleight-of-hand.
Ah, the indignity of it! You
feel like such a rube,
caught with your proverbial pants down
as they vanish from the room.
Let Linac 4 begin to hum
its cool, dispassionate hum, the classic
apparatus with its obligatory patter
moving its mesmeric armature
over your rigid body.
And if finally it all comes down to mathematics—
how the cells divide and multiply—
and the physics of how the trick’s done,
who’s to say that there could be
no alchemy in the 21st century,
no magic, no necromancy?
All you want is just to be
a stage prop in the act of Linac 4,
your cancer but a coin, a card, a key, a rope,
a rabbit in the top hat of the prostate:
Now you see it, now you don’t.