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Poetry and Medicine
May 23/30, 2001

That Good Night

Author Affiliations
 

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

JAMA. 2001;285(20):2550. doi:10.1001/jama.285.20.2550

I didn't have an answer when he wrote,
one colleague to another, for a hand.
I'd hoped to say goodnight before he woke.
I knew nothing would be simple once he spoke,
wasted, shapeless in his sweats (Just Do It!), and
I didn't have an answer when he wrote.
Then, suddenly upright, he punched the air. Some joke,
he said, stretching out a hand.
I'd hoped to say goodnight before he woke.
One eye still closed: You wouldn't want to look. The yolk
on this one leaks; I just see shooting stars, or a blurry band.
His scrawl unruled the paper when he wrote.
I've asked for a patch. You know, once one part broke
the rest went up in flames. If they offer you a transplant, friend—
His face unfurled, near peace before he woke
—just say no. Now, are you going to help me croak
or not? Don't just say no. We took the Doctors' Oath, I understand—
I didn't have an answer when you wrote—
First, do no harm, it says. But here harm is, no room can hold
this hell. Next door a pager raved. I took his hand.
I didn't have an answer when he wrote;
I'd hoped to say goodnight before he woke.

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