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Poetry and Medicine
December 8, 2004

Do No Harm

Author Affiliations

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

JAMA. 2004;292(22):2698. doi:10.1001/jama.292.22.2698

A spider in the sink is stunned. The light.
My size. Big sucker, brown. The body
bulges. Otherwise, it’s squat. If I wait
a few minutes without moving, it’ll glide
over the dry porcelain, attending
to its needs. Why do these spiders appear?
This one must have dropped from the ceiling
on a sticky thread. It couldn’t have been
exploring. Spiders don’t, unless. . . looking
for water? Attracted to a new spot?
I don’t think so. Out in the open sink,
vulnerable at any moment
to flood, this arachnid is as good as dead.
What kind of being? There is no way
to understand how it feels. It may eat
its own eggs. It hasn’t friends. The sheen
of the porcelain means nothing to it.
Act without thought. I will turn the tap
to the right temperature and pull out
my razor. I could switch off the light and wait
for the spider to leave, or flick it up
with a Kleenex. But I don’t. I let
the torrent loose and turn for a moment
to the shower, so I can’t see the spider
struggling and sliding, as its whole life,
for all I know, flashes in front of it.