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Poetry and Medicine |

Penmanship

Barry Butson
JAMA. 2012;308(18):1841. doi:10.1001/jama.2012.13269.
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Extract

We still get Christmas cards in the mail,
mostly from older friends and relatives.
What impresses more than the faithful
nod to tradition is the penmanship of some.
First, the elegant script of Marieta,
lovely woman over 70 whose words
are small but perfect in flowing message.
So beautiful, in fact, thoughts cross my mind
that if I outlive my wife (unlikely and unwanted)
I might call on Marieta, already a widow.
That's how much penmanship reveals
about character and intelligence.
Even more uplifting was the nice card
from my oldest sister, whose writing
is absolutely the same as when she wrote
on blackboards for students seven decades ago;
not a 9l-year-old tremor within her salutations,
simply amazing longevity, especially given
her rheumatic hands, gifted I conclude
from a life of pure thoughts and actions.
Then arrives the card from equally agèd brother,
with scribbling brief and barely legible—excusable
certainly considering his age, the wars he has fought
and the reality that he probably picks up a pen
about twice a year. Still . . . those two women's
characters made his seem simple as much as old.
No wars for them, it must be said, though
what lives those hands have led!

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