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Poetry and Medicine
January 16, 2002

Words I Looked Up in World War Two

Author Affiliations

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

JAMA. 2002;287(3):287. doi:10.1001/jama.287.3.287

Migraine takes her away,
Grandmother said when Aunt Marge
shuddered and fell, eyes rolling back,
like Orphan Annie's. In Sunday school
I feared a demon had her. Migraine
seemed like Mammon, Satan.
Epilepsy, my daddy called it,
another word to learn.
I watched her writhe, white-faced.
When we hugged, I laid on hands.
Aunt Marge was a tough one,
a big-boned laughing girl I loved,
always tickling us, pulling dimes
from behind our ears, rare
as dollars before Pearl Harbor.
Long-haired and lovely, she taught us
cards and hide-and-seek and horse,
and turned eighteen and enlisted.
My brother was ten with a temper,
kicked her once when she won.
I dragged him kicking
and scratching behind the barn
and taught him how to lose.
She passed the physical by lying,
handsome in Marine Corps blues.
Her troop ship burned off Okinawa.
I was fourteen by then, and big,
but enlistment sergeants led me out
to the sidewalk, patting my shoulders,
saying, Don't worry, it's okay,
the war's almost won. They'd seen
so many grieving, needing to kill
to cope—maybe saw my jaw too tight,
the eyes too puffy, the nicks
where I tried to shave.