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Poetry and Medicine
March 4, 1998

A Physician Reads the Body

Author Affiliations

Edited by Charlene Breedlove, Associate Editor.

JAMA. 1998;279(9):640H. doi:10.1001/jama.279.9.640

Detached and objective, I
read the body over the span
of a lifetime and tried to edit
its author's grand plots
according to the scientific method,
only to prove the initial brilliance
found in the young withers
under the harsh perspective of time.
Minor figures whose narratives
will be condensed to the spare
biographies found on tombstones
or anonymously spread thin
over favorite childhood waters.
But I suppressed the data.
Instead, when I saw stroke patients limp,
carrying the weight of dead limbs,
ready to surrender, I promised to help
them achieve something memorable,
encouraging Shakespearean-like discipline
in trying to turn strife
into the last elegiac iambs of daily life.
So when the last few pulses of blood
fill their tremoring index fingers,
the invisible ink of its author
can be published on a lover's spine
where it is committed to memory,
finally achieving a kind of tenure.