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Poetry and Medicine
May 7, 2003

Lifelines

Author Affiliations
 

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

JAMA. 2003;289(17):2183. doi:10.1001/jama.289.17.2183

Six brittle months
after burying my young son,
I reach out my hands, Dad,
and they're your hands reaching,
ready to work, gripping the handles
of your own casket, then letting go.
"Lifelines crisscross the palms,
connecting the generations," you said,
"the way roads crisscross maps,
connecting towns."
And you placed them—your palms—
next to mine, linking our lines.
Richard, then I, then the other mourners
drop shovelfuls of dirt onto the casket.
We watch the dirt take on different shapes,
like a face growing old.
Richard and I walk back to our chairs
along the rocky path, trying to maintain
our balance, as we did when told that
you were dead.
I sit stiffly in my stiff chair.
Richard leans forward in his seat,
grips the edge,
as if it's the only solid object
in the world.
I want to say I'll be father to him:
make corny jokes, walk with him
to the synagogue, sing the prayers with him.
But he's a brother, not a son.
Instead, I glance at my palms,
these maps showing roads
that end so abruptly without
the young palms that
once completed them.

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