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The Talking Cure: for David Pearson, MD

At eighty-one, my friend, who once was told
he’d never graduate in medicine
because he was too tender, climbs the stairs
after seeing his last patient. For years
he’s helped a retired lieutenant examine
the slippage of his inner knots by talking.

We sip iced tea. They don’t teach the talking
treatment anymore. We used to be told
that words matter. Remember? He’s examined
syllables and silence as his medicine
for decades. His cheeks, ravaged by the years
on steroids, twitch with dampness, and he stares

at melting ice cubes. He recalls the stairs
to paradise – that’s irony talking
through regret – and he’s dissecting the years
with sharp New England wit. I never told
him of my weakness, but he knew. Has medicine
hardened his heart? I avoid examining

mine, not today, as we examine
the world through a kitchen window, and I stare
at Narragansett Bay, a medicine
just visible between the trees. Talking
rakes up leaves. What’s beneath? Truth be told,
neither of us has ended where those years,

when youth seduced us, promised. Every year
accounted for, but when I examine
my conscience – an expression that tells
a lot about my childhood – what stares
at me is gratitude, not guilt. Talking
to my friend this afternoon is a medicine

that pares away scarred skin, a medicine
of acceptance – his fighting for years
to be heard, the ease with which I talked
a good game – all of which we examine
with astonishment. I descend the stairs
to the door, while we continue talking

of medicine and our examined
routes, frenetic years, a world that stares
at pain without telling. We do the talking.

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