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Poetry and Medicine
January 9/16, 2008

Head Injury Odyssey

JAMA. 2008;299(2):142. doi:10.1001/jama.2007.28-a

Prepare for an ocean voyage, the doctor said
after the accident, gather your loaves of bread
and flagons of wine, make peace with your Gods.
But he didn't say they’d be sailing a balsa-wood
boat, or that their boy would be foundering too,
somewhere ahead in the mist
at the helm of his own fragile skiff; that they’d
separate in storms and boiling straits
not once, twice, but endless times
choosing between equally untenable tacks,
or that he’d be bound to the mast, ears sealed
with wax to slip past the Sirens singing
promises of no more pain, that he’d be
enchanted to stone by Calypso, forget home,
would have to sail the last leg alone;
that memory would be swallowed whole,
lost in whirlpools, caves, forests of pine,
so many animals slaughtered, so much wine
poured out on dry ground; or that when
he came home he’d be changed, so that they’d
have to keep looking for signs to know him by
—no one would know was his birthmark still there
under the great, new scar or would Bill his old dog
get up from his bed, meet their son at the door.