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Poetry and Medicine
March 4, 2009

Bottle Beach: Spring Migration

Author Affiliations

Poetry and Medicine Section Editor: Charlene Breedlove, Associate Editor. Poems may be submitted to jamapoems@jama-archives.org.

JAMA. 2009;301(9):915. doi:10.1001/jama.2009.208

for Carol Spaw

   Be glad
for this cold hour at daylight's end, and
for the unexpected abundance
of shorebirds stopping
on their way through.
        Late afternoon, they litter
the high tide's edge with the rockshapes
of their bodies—
Plover, Dunlin, Red Knot, Dowitcher, Ruddy-Turnstone
slick shadows, wet-cast in sand.
               The waves here
thin to a palmstroke,
and the hand that carries these birds out
on the receding tide sweeps the beach clean.
No limpet's emptied hat, no winkle's staircase
split open on its spiral descent. . .
nothing written in kelp's bullwhip scrawl.
No bottles on this beach
named for them.
we found one. Imagine we dared
to pick it up, dared to read
the message locked inside. What if
we learned what we already suspect?
That our lives are subject to the same slippage
underfoot that bares this beach.
if we learned what we could never suspect.
That in less than eight weeks, the friend
who has directed us to this misnamed place
will lie down to rest and wake up
to a different erasure.
The name of each thing
washed away in her sleep: her thoughts
startled, lifting, banking away
in a single flock.

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