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“He Spied the Box of Silly, Tattered Toys”

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A Poem by Ron Louie, MD (Part 2 of 3)

This is part of the Medical Humanities Series on Op-Med, which showcases creative work by our members. Do you have a poem, short story, creative nonfiction or visual art piece related to medicine that you’d like to share with the community? Send it to us here.

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Tonio: Telling Time

What did he already know, straddling his mother’s broad lap,
hiding his face, listening at our halting and stuttering and murmuring babble,
the nonsensical sounds of statistics and “choices” rushing like noise,
perplexing his parents past their own understanding,
shifting from one leg to the other, unfathomed,
watching the waters well up around him, then spill,

Of the future, for the first time foreseen,
far from the red-and-blue striped swingsets
and the ants and the pebbles at the playground,
far from the bright candy wrappers at the deli,
and his mother’s silken neck, where he loved to rub his hot cheek?

Tonio turned, eyes wide, cried and clung a while,
his tears obscuring the flood of our own fears.
Slowly the quietness of the small room returned.
He had spied the box of silly, tattered toys;
he wanted them, right now, endearing just for the present,
silent of their own irrelevant past.

Citation: Louie R. Med Humanit 2017;43:e34.


Ron Louie, MD is a Clinical Professor of Pediatrics at the University of Washington, Seattle. He can be reached at

Editor’s Note: Click here to read Part 1 of Dr. Louie’s Three Medical Encounters series and a conversation with him on creativity and medicine.

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