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Poetry and Medicine
June 10, 2009

The Great Undoing

Author Affiliations

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

JAMA. 2009;301(22):2307. doi:10.1001/jama.2009.677

Unraveling now, this body,
after years of use and overuse,
minutes spent sweeping, driving,
eating, talking, fixing things,
and now, in the last one-third of my life—
this body is separating from this soul,
going north by northwest in small
increments, a festival of fragmentation,
a dandelion in the mouth of the wind.
I am free now from all but questions.
I spend time examining a pebble
in my shoe, noting not the pain
but its size, shape and texture,
its grayness matching the sky's hover.
What right do I have to these joys—
owning shoes, walking down a road
in the arms of elms, my legs pumping,
breath coming in raw patches,
and somehow the blessing of the stone
working its way under my heel,
making demands but not such big ones
that I lose heart.
I think of coffee and books and how
the grocer says hello all the time, how
I wait for the mail each day. God is
taking me back bit by bit.
I have learned to love the flatness
of this empty land, no longer
hunkering down in the shelter
of dark mountains. What do I know
after all these years? Like Socrates,
I know that I know nothing, and like
the slow smile of the horizon,
I widen before I disappear.

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