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Poetry and Medicine
June 16, 2015

The Cloud of Consonants and a Vowel

Author Affiliations
  • 1Newton, Massachusetts

Copyright 2015 American Medical Association. All Rights Reserved. Applicable FARS/DFARS Restrictions Apply to Government Use.

JAMA. 2015;313(23):2383. doi:10.1001/jama.2015.5529

I think of the little dark cloud
over the head of the comic strip man
whose name was consonants—Btfsplk,
always worried and harried.
And I think of the clouds I breathed in
with every breath from birth:
burning coal, belching tailpipes,
oily soot on the windowsills each morning,
cigar and cigarette smoke blowing around me
that I learned to copy like a rite of passage.
Pneumonia, pesticides, and fluoroscopes to see if my shoes fit,
fumes of turpentine, white lead, polyvinyl chloride,
asthma, pleurisy, rickettsial Q fever,
and radioactive iodine to shut off my thyroid—
and I was worried and harried.
And perhaps they made up the little dark cloud
that caught me at last.
And now it has burst and poured down on my head
with its shattered ground glass,
its cloud of consonants and a vowel—
ACGT changing with each breath.

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