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They say you may have caught
tuberculosis from the peasants
who came to your estate to be

seen by you. Hearing them coughing
in the hall you put down your pen
and rose from your desk. Short

of breath they had traveled all
night to arrive by dawn, drawn
by rumors of your kindness.

Warming the stethoscope
in your hands while the old farmer
bared his chest, your character

stood patiently on the doorstep,
holding a letter of introduction
you had yet to write. The longer

you spent away from the story
the harder it would be to finish it
but the hall was long, the line

out the door and you would turn
none away, knowing how far
they had come, how it must

have comforted them
to have someone listen
to their lungs and say it

sounded better than it sounded,
inhaling their sighs of relief,
saying, softly, “Next.”
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