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Poetry and Medicine
February 27, 2002

Dr. Lonelyhearts

JAMA. 2002;287(8):953. doi:10.1001/jama.287.8.953

Cardiologists, like poets, sit alone
some nights pondering
what moves beneath the breastbone.
Questions palpitate as if science
could dissect the heart's intentions.
We have seen fine linen spread
between two seekers like sterile
sheets or altar cloths where
Aztec priests or surgeons slice
a living heart still crying love,
love, love. What solace comes
from our explaining even DNA
must climb its spiral stairs alone
to wish on stars already dead from
longing. What comfort can poets or
physicians give? Placebos of affection?
Exhortations to live free, exploring
brave new meds or starlit spaces?
We stand ready to repair intricate
valves and hoses but what pumps
in and out are these taxonomies
of need, these litanies of loss. We
contemplate a patient facing down
disease we have no name for but
Desire, no cure for as we watch
that battered heart conspire
again with heartless strangers.