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Poetry and Medicine
July 4, 2007

When Heroics Fail

Author Affiliations

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

JAMA. 2007;298(1):17. doi:10.1001/jama.298.1.17

Forget the high wire act, flying
with my cape out flat across the whole
dark side of America. I’d give up all this
rescue work, if bridge lights weren't swinging
like a string of pearls I grabbed so
Mom & Pop & Ellie Sue could drive
their Dodge across the buckling pavement
into Brooklyn. Beyond bright liquored
nights, are corridors of machines that bleep,
and the steady pull of more that must
be done to keep this one safe or that one’s
brave motion strapped down in pleats
of cloth. Men are lowered to their bath
by a net, someone drag the angels down,
make them listen. I want to duck into a phone
booth, whip off my glasses, get decked out
in red & blue, and come out flying. I want
the little boy to throw down his crutches
and walk again. I want a star rising in the east,
maybe god himself to blaze out in his boxing gloves,
battle the forces of evil and swing us all up
into the star-spangled night. But my enemies
have stripped off my red leaping boots
and tonight, what can I do but hold you?
What can I ever do but tell you something true
or nearly true and then turn to look for
the summer that still shines in you.

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