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Poetry and Medicine
October 14, 2009

a composition of fractions

Author Affiliations

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

JAMA. 2009;302(14):1509. doi:10.1001/jama.2009.1368

Mockingbird schooled in the tree outside
the open window of the hospital
mastered the music of the heart
monitor, a sound that is a sign
of something that is not
as it should be. Now
in the park he makes of it
a living thing among living
things, a drone to carry a dozen
melodies, a congregation of birds,
call and response, the office of the bird
to sing the machine through the window
of the world to life, a living thing
among living things.
Not the tone but the singleness of it
signals how close death is. Not the fact
but the insistence of it dares life
to recede until some human presence
calls it back. Mockingbird knows context
is everything, knows you have to miss a beat
now and then to show you are a living thing,
no whole number but a composition
of fractions. Sing a song of death
with the whole choir of collectors
and it is a shadow
showing how deep life goes,
how on the edge of it frail
human presences flicker and flare
where life is a conflagration, the world
burning with a thousand songs.

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