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Poetry and Medicine
April 26, 2006

Breath Hunger

Author Affiliations

Poetry and Medicine Section Editor: Charlene Breedlove, Associate Editor. Poems may be submitted to

JAMA. 2006;295(16):1876. doi:10.1001/jama.295.16.1876

As if she were at altitude,
the air thin and cold.
A dilution, a lack.
The same kind of dread
as a death rattle.
Mornings, when she ran uphill,
the trees were swollen
with oxygen. Branches reached
toward her, tentacles
like the octopus.
She was afraid of bright orange,
of what waited on the culvert
along the spit
in the drowning place.
There, below the water line,
etched on steel,
was the tell—
tidal highs and lows
driven by the full moon.
She picked tiny crabs
like berries from metal.
Held them at arm's length
and watched their legs beat,
miniature pincers
nipping at nothing.
Thought she would like
to hold the octopus
in her mind like a question.
There was nothing
but the bloating
and the taking
of all that was not hers.
She envied those
who could breathe freely,
laugh, yawn, call the earth home.
Even the chela
had its grasp,
the claw its largesse.

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