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Poetry and Medicine
March 24/31, 2004

Rubor, Calor, Tumor, Dolor

Author Affiliations

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

JAMA. 2004;291(12):1420. doi:10.1001/jama.291.12.1420

Red as 5 AM eyes,
caustic lids and dry
as fever's staring darkness;
hot as the hell of regret
and sweat of scenes
he replays in purgatory;
swollen as clammy sheets
and the knot of muscles
that can't find rest;
not the pain that rends,
no piercing cry, but hopeless
as anger's constant grind.
He thinks you gave him this fever
that protracts the night
and excoriates his waking;
he thinks he contracted it
from what you took away
and from the nothing you left him;
he thinks and thinks and thinking
is his disease
and the torch to tenderness.
Oh, when will he awaken
to discover this inflammation
is the consuming heart,
not contagion but desire and
welcome when he loved you,
impossible to lose
what he freely gave away.
And when will love reveal
that like heals like;
rubor—red tears released,
calor—hot embraces,
tumor—swelling of forgiveness,
dolor—pain of new birth.
Dawn, a convulsive sob,
and his fever breaks.