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Poetry and Medicine
August 17, 2011

Kyle’s Finger

Author Affiliations

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

Author Affiliation: Chester, New Hampshire (woodyz@gsinet.net).

JAMA. 2011;306(7):685. doi:10.1001/jama.2011.981

The nine-year-old boy
I work with in school
uses his left index finger
the way an artist
holds a thumb at arm's length:
the slightest angling of the hand
shifts his entire perspective,
enables him to access some
internal canvas, a mental map
of his town's streets and buildings,
so that when he navigates
the interior of his mind,
he can arrive at the exact place
he needs to be.
Grey house, green door,
he might whisper into my ear,
face lit in a smile,
eyes bright with the excitement
of being in that other world,
the one that commands his attention,
draws him away from
the company of his classmates,
the lined paper and yellow pencil
lying idle on his desk,
and from me, whose job
it is to pull him back,
to root him here
in this time and place.
When he comes willingly,
he is eager to learn about
the artifacts of this world:
the clock, the ruler, the friend
who is trying to make eye contact.
But when the journey back is arduous,
the siren song sweeter
than our heartfelt gestures,
then the boy
uses his left index finger
like a man torn, tormented,
pissed off.
He slams his left hand
into his right, thrusts
that finger upward,
again and again,
demands that both worlds
leave him
the hell alone.