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Poetry and Medicine
November 28, 2001


Author Affiliations

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

JAMA. 2001;286(20):2512. doi:10.1001/jama.286.20.2512

for Nancy Taylor

George Eliot wrote, "It's never too late
to be who you might have been," a thought
that simmers like a sheen behind my eye
when you tell your story—For an hour
before he fell to his death, the boy
and his roommates gambled at a game
of spitting farther and still farther
from the second-floor balcony. He leaned
the last inch that he wouldn't have tried
if just then the beer hadn't hit him, or if
he had been a larger man, or less afraid
of seeming queer to his friends, or more
confident of passing his course in
Victorian Novelists. So he hawked
his glob more than a foot past the last mark
the others had made. At which point
the baseball cap that covered his pale, thin head
jerked into an arc above the railing,
and before there was time for the girls
who watched from the sidewalk to scream
or jump back, the top of his overturned skull
smashed into the edge of the concrete,
and the rest of his body flipped backwards
into the daffodils. This week, you say,
the students are looking into themselves
and carrying more weight than the chaplain
would like. Stunned by the exquisite campus,
I ask the names of flowering trees
around the lake. This one, you say, is Judas,
and the other—just as beautiful—I miss.