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Poetry and Medicine
June 16, 2010

Death of a Student

Author Affiliations

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

JAMA. 2010;303(23):2328. doi:10.1001/jama.2010.613

After the concert, she’d swallowed
a pink pill embossed with a daisy
and chased it with beer. Some say
rat poison was the secret ingredient.
The ambulance elbowed through traffic
while her brain swelled like a toy balloon
and coma turned to death in a white room.
No medical miracles for a teenager
in flip-flop shoes and short skirts.
She’d planned to major in psychology
at a state university, but the call of Ecstasy,
like the song of Sirens, brought her
crashing to the rock. No harps, no hymns.
Was the crow on the cradle
the day she was born?
Her body at the wake looks pasted
on satin pillows like a paper doll,
or a collage of sawdust and lace,
the powdered visage of mortality.
The crisis team from the high school
filters through the crowd.
Chatter circles like random birds
through the funeral parlor, where flocks
of the distraught huddle at the coffin
or squint at photos and verse. Her poems
talk of teddy bears and jewelry,
her grandfather's chew-tobacco,
grapes bunched together for survival.
Life sifts quiet as sand through fingers,
formless as an egg slipping through a cracked shell.
Two girls enter in sunglasses, their cheeks wet,
I hug them, touch their faces, glad they are alive,
their arms warm and golden.
And so this dark summer begins and ends
with a white coffin borne by a limo
to the city of headstones, lowered into earth
amid the groans of ropes and relatives
and the fierce tremolo of adolescent regret.

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