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Poetry and Medicine
February 16, 2000

Prayer Meeting

Author Affiliations

Edited by Charlene Breedlove, Associate Editor.

JAMA. 2000;283(7):849. doi:10.1001/jama.283.7.849

Neither public charity nor private room,
our cases are collected in this ward
where silver runners bend above each bed,
short curtains whisking each of us from sight,
or halfway out. We glance aside,
words, like our street clothes, have been hung away.
The trousers of the doctors, bending down,
the screek of crank and rail,
hint at what intimate, undignified exam
visited upon our neighbors now
comes to us next. Below each sober face,
out of the skimpy gown, there poke
the splinted arm, the feeding tube,
the bag of waste, the breathing hole
in the throat. It is easy to divine
what gurgles and pours,
what loss is coded on each secret chart.
Days, one sigh passes from mouth to mouth
down the whole row. Nights, one mantra moan
rolls voice to voice until she clatters in,
the midnight minister, the cart of meds.
To every sheet is clipped the button that connects
to the lit station down the hall
where call lights flash together
and on a single shelf our monitors
jump to the various lightnings of the heart.

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