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Poetry and Medicine |

Belly

David Harris Ebenbach
JAMA. 2008;299(6):612. doi:10.1001/jama.299.6.612.
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Extract

I finally notice it at a dinner party,
the way it stretches my shirt,
its urgency from the cake I’ve eaten,
its nerdy gurgles all the way home.
My wife has noticed it, too.
She eyes it from her side of the bed.
My belly is new topography for us. She says,
You really should do something about that.
I take it by car to the doctor's office,
sit among other people with wrong-sized parts;
there is a swollen hand in the lap next to me,
a puffy face staring at me over the magazines.
When it's my turn, the doctor examines my roundness
as though an explorer determined to map me;
there may be an alternate route to the Indies
laid out somewhere on these curving new lines.
Eventually, the doctor relaxes on the rolling stool,
assures me that everything will be all right in time.
It seems that I have merely eaten too much.
If I just eat less, the doctor assures me, the gut will shrink.
I ponder this on the drive home, my hand on my belly.
It sits in my lap like an old cat thinking about its next meal.
Have I really eaten too much, belly? I ask it. Could it be?
There is only the sound of the car and the world around the car.
At the dinner table, my wife and I discuss the situation.
She agrees with the doctor. I nod, but I’m not so sure.
I eat my normal amount of dinner though we talk about changes,
about reduced portion size and exercise and a long, long life.
Then I wash the dishes contemplatively with my belly against the sink.
The air, in the kitchen and out the open window, is a fog of spices;
everywhere is the rising scent of this city and beyond.
I can't help myself. I am still hungry for more.

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