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Poetry and Medicine
May 21, 2003

The Chain of Safety

Author Affiliations

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

JAMA. 2003;289(19):2466. doi:10.1001/jama.289.19.2466

"How do I die, Charles?" you whisper from the hospital bed.
"Do I just close my eyes?"
Your unanswered question
returns me to myself,
to a younger you,
to when my brothers and I
were small and walked down
by the wide stream
off Canterbury Road
after a hard rain
to watch branches, leaves
swept away
in the swirling water,
and you'd insist
that the four of us link hands,
as you held out yours
to start our Chain of Safety,
and we'd tread hand in hand
by the water's edge,
you in the lead.
But now I feel you leaving
the shoreline, Mom, and moving
by yourself into that place where
deep water and drowning are the same,
for the swirling water
has become safe and beautiful
to you, and I know
you will not reach out
to us even one more time,
yet how natural for me
to want you here, like
a hand that insists
on being held.

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