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Poetry and Medicine
March 1, 2000

The Mental Status Exam

Author Affiliations

Poetry and Medicine Section Editor: Charlene Breedlove, Associate Editor.

JAMA. 2000;283(9):1114. doi:10.1001/jama.283.9.1114

The family warned me not to let him know
what this is all about. I explain
it's just another test, he's used to that,
and after preliminaries
of who and where, what's this, what's that,
I hand him pen and paper.
Write a simple sentence.
Copy this design.
He winks and scrawls and doesn't shake,
as if he knew before today
what words to use and how
to draw the lines.
He thought I'd never ask.
Oh. He writes he likes my style
and smiles as if we closed a deal,
another big one.
He signs his name with ruthless grace
expecting lives to change,
he's used to that.
His outstretched hand is still until we shake,
we share a secret now,
it's hidden in his drawing of a house—
ten lines no door no window,
a box within a box
the lid is almost shut
a cube in four dimensions.
Now let's test expectancy:
watch my hands and pick a hand
any hand
—no, not both.