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Poetry and Medicine
May 7, 2008


Author Affiliations

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

JAMA. 2008;299(17):2000. doi:10.1001/jama.299.17.2000

So convinced of the existence
of a rattle, my father made
my brother kneel in the back seat
of the Buick and move the stethoscope
across the window, the top of the seat,
the ledge below the glass,
as they drove around the neighborhood.
Nothing came through that long black tube
but my brother's fear of being seen.
Alone, stiff in the vinyl chair
at the bedside, my mother knew
the moment of my father's death
without a stethoscope. Nor did
she ring for a nurse, but sat frozen
while the heating vent at the window
blew the curtains slightly.
Then she bowed.
I found his old one coiled in a cabinet.
I put it on as a curiosity,
listened to my heartbeat, then laid it back.
I don't know what I’d expect to hear
inside the slide of my family's breathing,
or what to imagine that doesn't make a sound.
Where would I place that cold knob
to listen for devotion?
What would I set my finger upon
to catch the regular rhythm of hope?

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