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Poetry and Medicine
August 19, 1998

The Art of Swallowing

Author Affiliations

Edited by Charlene Breedlove, Associate Editor.

JAMA. 1998;280(7):598F. doi:10.1001/jama.280.7.598

The biopsy is choreographed to oldies hits on the radio.
A small curtain crosses your chest but the flesh tug, the
efficient sounds of metal, keep you focused. You scan
the masked face for signs.
Choose a button, a seashell, a tooth, a stone. Hop on one
foot as the half moon rises, lean over slowly. Slowly.
Slowly. If you keep your balance, you may go on.
A stunning lack of sensation, rachety sounds as x-rays
penetrate. No feeling as the needle plunges. The doctor
makes a skilled incision, looks at his watch. He's late for
his daughter's recital.
Choose a key, a penny, a needle, a walnut. Choosing a
feather will bring you grace. Remember the secret you
learned as a child: inside the apple you find the star.
You think—walk to the car. You think—put the key in
the lock. Your heart thinks of the feather. You feel the sun
on your face. Your tongue is furred and heavy. On the
horizon there's a pale white moon. You hesitate and