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Poetry and Medicine
October 27, 2010

The Geriatrician Ages

Author Affiliations

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

JAMA. 2010;304(16):1754. doi:10.1001/jama.2010.1349

They don't fly up at him, all these names,
not a confusion of pigeons' wings
in the parking lot; they don't lock arms
         to block him entering
the next exam room;
maybe they awaken him near dawn
but not by shaking. More like
         the powdery flutter
of a moth disturbed in daylight,
the mute gray fall
of ash from burning newsprint.
Many he can't recall, but all of them
he recognizes when their dry lips
whisper their presence
         from the other side—
not accusations (their ease of passing
being one more benediction
of his calling), not really thanks
         though most are grateful,
mostly just an airy I. . . I
in his cluttered bag of memories.
So many, so often now, more and more.
Each murmur a spirit body bowed
into a wheelchair, curled mantis-like
         in bed, pushing against a walker,
each of them pushing, pushing
against what held them here
and what let them go.
         Some days he can't remember
if he last saw them on evening rounds
or in a dream, and any moment
he expects the office door to open:
         one will enter, speak
his name, one he had thought
was gone.

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