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Poetry and Medicine
April 2, 2003

A Memory Rising

Author Affiliations

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

JAMA. 2003;289(13):1607. doi:10.1001/jama.289.13.1607

Just listen, okay.
This is about me, about my selfishness,
not about a woman, ancient in her bones,
who suddenly collapsed like an animal shot,
who didn't have a rope to grab onto as I did
so many times after school to feel the branch
of the oak bend and my body's thread unwind
when I swung out, out just over the creek,
floating for a moment, as one must who is
ascending to heaven, heart on fire,
breath caught sharp in the throat, to land
with buckled knees on the other side, the
leap being, in its floating moment, a kind
of prayer.
This isn't about
how the old woman
sat up all at once,
staring with wide-open eyes,
partly in shock, but partly as if to say
I didn't know I was going to die right now,
not on my Sunday walk.
It's not about
how her mouth opened,
stunned into an oval shape
at the inelegance of dying,
her plummeting to earth the way she did,
not onto buckled knees,
not even falling into bed,
cuffing fluttery hands
across her chest,
but twisting in the air
and landing on her back,
as I sat on the curb of my front yard
with my arm around my dog.
Nor is this about
how her head fell slowly back to the street,
her eyes still open, and how I listened for a heartbeat,
thought I heard a sound like a spirit tapping,
but then there was just the silence of that empty Sunday,
and my hand reaching down to close her eyes,
though the hand seemed to belong to someone else,
and my memory of the old woman thirty years later
continuing to rise like a ghost,
there being nothing heavy enough
within me to hold it down,
and I keep closing her eyes over and over,
wondering if someone will do the same for me,
which, as I said, is what this is about.

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