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Poetry and Medicine
August 11, 2010

Circling the Drain

Author Affiliations

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

JAMA. 2010;304(6):613. doi:10.1001/jama.2010.1050

You can see it: the noble air of the last gasp.
Watching men die, their eyes deathbed-confessional,
their jaws slackened with the duty to tell of a time
when ease was all they knew, and wrong decisions
were always coming due too soon, a lapsed freedom
locking them into this scene. Bacteria, on the tide;
the heart, submerged; the brain, strangled; the watch
that is the death watch.
Sage clinicians say: He's circling the drain,
as if they are plumbers, and water is falling,
washing lives away. Pure, cold water
that could salve, not save, a soul.
But listen: there are mouthed words,
the keys to the kingdom. Men say
what they really mean if they have the time,
but they do not have the time. We watch
despite the drugs, the shocks, the cannulae,
we watch them go, all the little pains of small drains,
little lives that do not know the drugs, the shocks,
or even the words to say.

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