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Poetry and Medicine
May 5, 1999

Skin Man Three

JAMA. 1999;281(17):1572. doi:10.1001/jama.281.17.1572

lower case, querulous query: how big is the tumor?
He humors me: about as big as a bottle cap,
maybe bigger, bigger than I would like.
Eminent skin surgeon uses laser knives to carve away
white meat from this fearful cheek. Microsurgery.
What else do you really want to know about cancer or dolor?
Proud of his handiwork he takes pix with his Polaroid,
to record the successful earth removal, landfill, property lines
of a woman's profile, the sagging ovoid billboard of a personality
scooped out like a toddler's sandbox,
bandaged casually, swiftly like an afterthought.
There now, back into the fray,
dance your heart out, show them you don't depend on a mere face.
Wear that bandage like a captain's medals,
pleased with your trivial pursuits surviving nettles.
It's just a scratch, a pirate's patch—
you can't sail any place on just a pretty face.
Join scarred brethren from voyages past.
Heed grandma's dictum that beauty is within.
Each night swab peroxide into the wound.
Delight in foaming expiration. Things don't last.

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