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Poetry and Medicine
November 16, 2011

Balancing Books

Author Affiliations

Poetry and Medicine Section Editor: Charlene Breedlove, Associate Editor. Poems may be submitted to

Author Affiliation: Department of Preventive Medicine, State University of New York at Stony Brook (

JAMA. 2011;306(19):2065. doi:10.1001/jama.2011.1545

If you want to die you will have to pay for it. —Louis MacNeice, “Charon”

You come into this room flat on a bed,
a screen winking above your shoulder.
Light penetrates the sheets of a niche
where they put you, awaiting the tug
of hope and the deep drag of the flesh
to play themselves out. Too much clutter
to reflect, too many branches to cut,
your loader pushes and drips, a drainer
relieves the pressure. The body
scribbles in diminishing letters,
speaks in whispers, misplaces your thread.
Which is the right place? The words you meant
to ask at the gate, but before you could
they clapped a charge on your chest. They looked
at your heart's account and said, If you want
to die, you will have to pay for it.

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