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Poetry and Medicine
April 6, 2011

Woven Into the Plot

Author Affiliations

Poetry and Medicine Section Editor: Charlene Breedlove, Associate Editor. Poems may be submitted to jamapoems@jama-archives.org.

JAMA. 2011;305(13):1276. doi:10.1001/jama.2011.340

Look, for a moment—the wrinkled man
in his floppy-brimmed hat, in the coffee-shop
window. His eyes track a figure
skulking behind the intricate black
slot-work of print on a page in a book.
Neither you, nor the seated fellow
ignoring his coffeecake, nor the poor maniac
trapped in that paragraph (and contracted
into the gabardine suit of a tireless
gumshoe, bound by a thousand adjectives)—
none is free. None, in a sudden
bursting open out the life-tethered
skin of his earthly condition, can enter
another life, another body—no
quick change into an artist, monk,
angel, monster if you like. And I,
a narrow trunk of shadow sprouting
at my feet and slanting out
onto the street, I’m threaded
through and hung on the fine wires
of time and circumstance too. How
can I show you? Peel back the fascial
envelopes of my arms where my urges’
guidelines run? Open my mouth
and let shine the sonic images
of the traction grips and hinges
softly screeching in the dark? Part
the skin and muscle flaps at the slit
between two ribs (let the doctor point out
the heart, each contraction shaking
its several shining stalks)? Look,
for a moment, how the great vessels carry
the pulse tremor away as they taper
and branch into the darkness of the body's
countless tiny life situations,
clusters of cells no glove will touch—
encampment, hovel, metropolis—world
like ours out here, entangled, unremedied.
For this, the one medicine's witness.
And I confess, I am glad
to be woven into the plot, as night
mops my shadow up off the street,
as if we're between cases. The guy
in the shop is about to finish his chapter,
polish off his cake, get up, exit,
and fidget like a puppet at the bus stop. But
the case isn't closed. We haven't seen
the surgeon's face come out from behind
his blue mask. And you must have somewhere
to go. I guess we're both running late.

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