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Poetry and Medicine
February 12, 2003

A Circle Portrait

Author Affiliations

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

JAMA. 2003;289(6):668. doi:10.1001/jama.289.6.668

Lose a string of jobs, or days, and wonder
how the same amount of alcohol that made
you clever turned your witty words thick
and ugly. Nurse the hidden beer you stow
beneath the seat and drive the weaving streets
alone in the churning town. Press your brow
against the steering wheel. Admit defeat,
and pray the usual prayer: get me home,
I'll never drink again. Then, fumble with
the swaying lock, the spinning room, and grope
the floor, recover equilibrium.
Tomorrow, pull into the pony keg,
and slip another pint beneath the seat.
Cruise the barrios, the littered streets,
and roll your windows down to hear the swirl
of families outside on rented steps.
The children jumping rope on sidewalks thread
a braid of jingles as they navigate
their way into the looping games. Their mother
unweaves the orange ribbon from her chair
then twirls the plastic twine into knots.
Cradle the quart between your knees and nod
your head against the wheel. Imagine that
you're safely home and you belong to them.
Tomorrow, pull the blinds and curtains closed,
And slip a peek outside. Who's watching you?
Thumb through old albums, photographs and records,
and let nostalgia carry you away
from bottles filled with cigarettes and piled
so high you sneak them out into the garbage.
Dial the phone and wait to see who answers:
old friend, a lover, one who still recalls
the way you used to be and knows it might
be you who spirals down into the past.
Scribble circles on legal pads and slur
the circling lines to match your circling words,
compose the empty circles into faces—
tomorrow, pull a circle portrait out
and slip the penciled noose from around its neck.