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Poetry and Medicine
October 8, 2014

Sacrament of the Sick

Author Affiliations
  • 1Center for Medical Humanities, Compassionate Care, and Bioethics, State University of New York at Stony Brook
JAMA. 2014;312(14):1474. doi:10.1001/jama.2014.5087

      Limpopo Province,

      South Africa, 2002

What if Flora came back, not made of sticks
and sinews creeping across the room
on granny’s arm, but in a bright blue robe
with shimmering yellow lines and a dozen
jangling bracelets, and the cardboard coverings
of her windows turned to glass, and the bent
aluminum fork her daughter is digging
in the dirt with became a doll dressed in glitter
and sequins. What if Flora ambushed
the Minister of Health at the point of a knife
and imprisoned her in an underground chamber,
where she tied the Minister’s tongue
and stuck a tube in her throat and siphoned
the Minister’s moisture, until she was dry
as a mummy from the Kalahari.
What if Flora came back, not struggling
toward her bed in muslin, but wearing
a brash Sotho blanket and crimson turban,
praising Morenaboloka setjhaba.
What if, after Benedict anointed her
with oil and chrism and made the sign
of the cross on her lips, Flora poured
protein and lemon juice and garlic
into the Minister’s throat until her skin
shimmered with life again, and Flora
forgave her. What if everything
was different, and Flora’s daughter
didn’t die, and Flora’s husband
kept his pants buttoned. What if Benedict’s
blessing ascended to God, like a comet
skidding from here to incineration.

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