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Poetry and Medicine
February 10, 1999

The Summer Her Family Moved to Houston

Author Affiliations

Edited by Charlene Breedlove, Associate Editor.

JAMA. 1999;281(6):494F. doi:10.1001/jama.281.6.494

Don't ask, Uncle Earl scolded.
You don't want to know. Oh, but I did,
Aunt Emma bursting with secrets
I should know. What happens when a body rots,
when cancer eats the lungs? What did he mean,
exquisite pain? Nine, I had felt fire
when I swallowed with my tonsils gone—
saved by a fire brigade of nurses with ice cream.
I had seen dead pigs, found my brother's old dog
stiff behind the barn. What could be worse
than watching Barbara ride off
in her family's packed station wagon,
waving from the tailgate and weeping,
leaving for Houston a thousand miles away?
Oh, if anything would ever be worse
than watching their vacant house for hours
across the road, no one to ride with
across a mile of meadow to the muddy Brazos,
Barbara forever gone, I had to know.

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