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Poetry and Medicine
July 3, 2002

One Summer Before the War

Author Affiliations

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

JAMA. 2002;288(1):17. doi:10.1001/jama.288.1.17

Fat-bellied buzzards watch
and finally take off as I swish by.
I'm nineteen, between girlfriends.
Korea's in all the news,
but I'm invincible, signed up
for cadets and pilot training,
no worries about the draft.
I'm pushing ninety, rattling
past ninety in an old coupe
on a state road of chug holes,
skunks and armadillo pelts.
I mash the car to ninety-five,
past metal fatigue to a hundred.
There's a hill ahead
and I hope I'll take off,
let it come, I'm in control.
Suddenly, I'm seeing trees,
houses and red barns,
windmills, so many cattle
I'm counting, thousands
when the road curves hard
to Amarillo, and I settle back
and let it fall to sixty,
plenty of time
for the physical exam at noon,
the old car's windows down,
engine approaching hot.