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Poetry and Medicine
October 17, 2007

Heart Scan

Author Affiliations

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

JAMA. 2007;298(15):1740. doi:10.1001/jama.298.15.1740

He is laid out on a conveyer, both arms extended.
A heavy white box pivots inches above his chest,
its mechanical eye scanning, scanning. Every five seconds
the gamma camera snaps another picture. He's been told
to hold still, not to speak. He smells antiseptic
on the walls, listens to clicks and hums,
his heart thudding evenly in the hollow of his chest.
His eyelids drift. He imagines how the surgeon
might open his body, the incision's sans serif, sternal saw,
rib splitter. Now he's alone in a white room, sedated,
intubated, wrists tied to the bedrails. Is that Sibelius?
Prokofiev? A calm breeze lifts the white
curtains. His partner smiles, his loving
face hovering inches from his own. He smells pancakes,
bacon. There are boxes everywhere—are they moving?
A giant poppy flower drops its red confetti.
He shakes out the dried seed-head like pepper
into his palm. Is that his heart? Over there,
on the monitor—amorphous shape
swirling with color as he wheels past
a starless black sky. Is that his heart?
Or merely the earth
as seen from space?

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