[Skip to Navigation]
Citations 0
Poetry and Medicine
February 25, 2009

Life by a Thousand Cuts

Author Affiliations

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

JAMA. 2009;301(8):806. doi:10.1001/jama.2008.985

I seem to have an unintended calling:
cutting my fingers in awkward places.
I’ll be washing dishes, for example, when
a thought surges, making my mouth grimace
and my fist flex inside the glass it's scrubbing,
and if the glass is old and therefore weakened
by sinking sand, it will burst into fragments,
and the water will run red over gushing knuckles
that remain senseless for the moment prior to pain.
Or I’ll be placing a fat bouquet in a vase
and forget the razor shard on its chipped rim.
I’ve even been known to bleed on pages from paper cuts,
lunging for Band-Aids while trying to remember lines.
Everyone is tired of my bandaged fingers
and are suspicious of my hands and where they’ve been.
But it's only that I’m in such a hurry,
and we don't have a dishwasher,
and I know that beauty lingers yet in damaged things
that I have to drive myself occasionally for stitches,
weeping on the way when the cut is deep,
then watch the doctor squint and bend
like a tailor with thick black thread,
mending my garment of skin.