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Poetry and Medicine
October 6, 2015

Paul, Sent by the Super

Author Affiliations
  • 1McGovern Center for Humanities and Ethics, University of Texas Medical School, Houston
JAMA. 2015;314(13):1405. doi:10.1001/jama.2015.7278

for Amanda and Billy Templeton

He comes in small from the cold.
His shirt is ragged, glasses and stubble
are old. Pouring Drano in the tub,
he says his father died of black lung—
a boy who kicked coal from the rails
as dust rose in the tunnels of this choked-
out corner of northeast Pennsylvania.
In the basement, he diagnoses a broken
rinse cycle, explains maintenance
for the natural gas, which sparks
directions to the mansions of grand
coal barons. Upstairs again,
his bearings broaden. He recalls
German grocers in Honesdale,
plush seats in a long-shuttered opera house.
Beside the streaming sink, he speaks
of failed hatcheries in Damascus,
dam releases on the Lehigh, which remind
him again of echoes singing in those shafts
of anthracite. “You know some mules never
saw daylight?” he asks. “Passed whole lives
underground.” Their marred bodies consigned
to slag. Only their eyes white and wide
atop the carts that rolled them out.

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