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Poetry and Medicine
June 25, 2003

Case History: Persephone

Author Affiliations

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

JAMA. 2003;289(24):3215. doi:10.1001/jama.289.24.3215

The visiting surgery resident
inserts the icy speculum
while the mother stands nearby
clutching her only daughter's pale hand.
Outside the window—a barren
January day. The long fields lie empty,
their edges stitched with bare trees.
The resident repeats the history:
less clarification than compulsive ritual.
No. There had been nothing unusual.
The girls had watched a video, shared a
bowl of buttered popcorn, played a game
of Truth or Dare.
He asks again about boys
and the girl blushes dark as a fresh bruise.
Then she remembers the three
pomegranate seeds she swallowed whole.
A spasm doubles her as she wretches
and heaves—her mother in a fury—
Hurry, doctor! She's burning up!
The ultrasound's sonar beam
reveals the dark haze buried
near the cavern of her cecum—yet
it is still not proof enough. The mother
will not relent until up to our wrists in blood
we deliver it to her
in a formalin jar, the offending appendix,
red and swollen as a worm.