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Poetry and Medicine
February 20, 2002


Author Affiliations

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

JAMA. 2002;287(7):815. doi:10.1001/jama.287.7.815

for John Lawson, MD

My whole life I've tied shoes.
For children, grandfathers, great aunts
complaining of age and lumbago,
unsure of left over right.
Adolescent sons left laces untied,
soles flapping alligator jaws,
tore off their shoes in the front hall,
sailed beyond reach.
My own laces came unmoored
until I learned the sailors' lexicon
of knots: left over right, right
over left, for a trusty square.
What disjointed lives I've tried to retie,
helped a few bind theirs with rhymes.
But granny knots unravel, snarl
like webs of spiders on amphetamines.
Today I cannot reach my feet.
Ornery spine curves like a scythe,
one extra vertebra, mutation shared
with Inuits, clamps on a nerve.
Before your duller drugs untangle my
web of pain, you lean down to tie my black Nikes
so I'll run again like an antique clock that just
needs rewinding and a squirt of oil
to chime on the hour and remind
how our time goes round and round
before it winds down, dissolves
in balls of dust, expires.
Someday when you are old and ache
and cannot bend, I will return,
my hands no longer freckled, scarred
or cramped like blue crab claws
(my natal totem draws me ever seaward),
but supple again, alabaster pale,
bitten nails grown long in the grave
and painted in rainbows.
Then my transparent fingers will retie
your shoes with unforgotten repertoires
of square knots, clove hitches, bowlines,
cat's-paws, fisherman's bends, Gordian knots.

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