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Poetry and Medicine
August 3, 2005


Author Affiliations

Poetry and Medicine Section Editor: Charlene Breedlove, Associate Editor. Poems may be submitted to jamapoems@jama-archives.org.

JAMA. 2005;294(5):530. doi:10.1001/jama.294.5.530

Because she took an extra scoop of rice
the soldiers made her watch
while one of them held a machete,
swung it into her uncle’s neck.
Don’t close your eyes or we’ll shoot you!
they said. She remembers how his face
grimaced, his eyes still blinking
as his head tumbled toward her.
How his legs kicked as if his body
were still trying to run away.
How can the body move without
the head? she asks, referring to her left arm—
the way it rocks back and forth
when she rests it on her lap. How
it stops when she reaches
for her tea cup, her chopsticks.
I cup her elbow in my palm, feel
the ratcheting as I flex her forearm
forward and back; notice
how her eyes seem to gaze
at a faraway place, her face unyielding
as Angkor Wat’s stone Buddhas.
I do not know how to ease or erase
what war has written in her memory,
but her tremor should lessen
with the right medicine. And that hope
seems to bring her a moment’s peace.

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