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Poetry and Medicine
February 14, 2001

Intensive Care

Author Affiliations

Poetry and Medicine Section Editor: Charlene Breedlove, Associate Editor.

JAMA. 2001;285(6):702. doi:10.1001/jama.285.6.702

Gloucester: Let me kiss that hand!
King Lear: Let me wipe it first, it smells of mortality

Easy enough for me to offer, you sneer, a hand
when the stinking fact remains: I'm alive
and slated, apparently, to remain so.
Not so, you.
Easy enough for me to fondle
the tubes snaking in and out of your sheets
when I don't have to sleep with them.
And what stinks, you snap.
I look at your drool and stubble,
the greasy sheen on your face, today's
green baby food smeared down your hospital bib.
I can't say what I smell, exactly.
Why the hell am I waltzing in here, anyway,
like some day-trader with my cashmere overcoat,
office jokes, weather reports?
Can't I see?
Suddenly, you claw at the i.v.
jackknifed into your arm:
Help me.
I trap your mad, wild hand between mine,
hold it, rubbery and cold,
until it stills.
Your eyes turn opaque, red as a pigeon's;
your head rolls
back to the damp hollow in your pillow.
Dying by accident, you snort
(with your old irony intact), accident
would hold a certain glamour at least:
backlit, bloodshot memories of flying glass
and screams.
You take that back:
we've got.
No, this is the long and slow of it:
each day your breath more clotted, my face
harder to glue.
You pull your hand away and wipe me off,
then whisper for me to get out.
We both reek.
But we both know, as eyes go,
hands are offered to the dying only
from the dying.

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