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Poetry and Medicine
March 19, 2003

Death House

Author Affiliations

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

JAMA. 2003;289(11):1346. doi:10.1001/jama.289.11.1346

Each day your cluttered bed
reveals a different version
of the house you're making
of cardboard, balsa wood,
and the Popsicle sticks
your sister brought, a design
you sketched, but abandoned,
a dozen years back
because your wife had split
by then, and you were broke.
The house is crisp, every bit
as fine as those you built
for the rich in Southampton,
those eccentric retreats
erected for delight.
It's ever better, you explain,
brushing a few slivers
of gluey debris
from your distended abdomen's
shelf and showing me
the latest improvement
on your old design. Today's touch
is a railing for the porch.
Yesterday's—a larger deck.
Last week you made a ramp
from the children's bedroom
to the pool. But tonight
you'll tear that feature out,
or add a window, or re-size
the molding, so when I come
again tomorrow morning
to talk about dying,
the house, like Penelope's shroud,
will be no closer
to completion, and you'll look
at the pile of cardboard and glue
on your table and tell me
you need more time. It's such a job
getting everything to fit
and you have to be patient.

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