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Poetry and Medicine
December 11, 2002

The Hospital on the Cape

Author Affiliations

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

JAMA. 2002;288(22):2789. doi:10.1001/jama.288.22.2789

The whiteness begins with my mother's hands
clenched in a hard little grip,
knobbed and distressed as the rocks on the beach,
and ends with the deadpan white
walls of this room.
Outside, beyond us, children are yelping,
crazy as dogs in the sun.
My blinds fraction the light—
everything is regulated here; only so much noise,
so much fear.
My tray is squared off for small portions,
as if even a meal were dangerous and must be kept
brief as a secret.
My mother's hand reassures mine
and I squeeze tight, trying to make this all so real
that it hurts.
The drugs wear thin in my veins;
my head falls back against the pillow,
hitting it again and again,
thrashing out the dense, numbing weight.
The sound of my mother's anxious voice is a blessing
in this room, where the dumb industry of needles and tubes
runs like clockwork.
A long and even shade cuts across the edge
of each blind's blade.
The nurses here are unflappable
in their desire to keep out the light.
Even so, a single dazzling sight strays in.
My eye makes it out—just barely—but I know it is there:
the flinty hills opening onto the beach—the fanlike drifts
of sand overlapping like the feathers of a wild bird's wing—
hot, hot—the children stamp up and down
and sing to their shadows.
In that bright, full light the terrors of the body
are lost to the rush of chill blue water and spray-stung air.
When my mother leaves, I dream of following
her there, where the tall crags
resist the swift-breaking currents,
where sunlight is wide as the sea
and whatever flies, flies free.

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