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Poetry and Medicine
November 16, 2005

The Hard Part

Author Affiliations

Poetry and Medicine Section Editor: Charlene Breedlove, Associate Editor. Poems may be submitted to jamapoems@jama-archives.org.

JAMA. 2005;294(19):2406. doi:10.1001/jama.294.19.2406

It’s not my father’s shouting,
though that’s enough to drive us from him—
the jackhammer cries with which he wards off phantoms,
searching for us in our real bodies, inches away.
Not his index finger pressed moronically to sagging lips
as he eavesdrops on conversations he can’t understand.
Not his 99-pound figure, sores on every joint,
the heavy head pitched forward.
Not even his incontinence. Not that,
and not the plain humiliations of each hour,
the sixteen waking hours of each day,
the thirty days of this month’s garish blossoming.
It’s that after the shouting and struggling,
after the cleaning and changing,
once he’s settled in his chair
quiet and almost straight, smelling of lotion—
he starts up again. So I take his hands in mine,
insist I’m here, I’m here with you
until he looks at me, then down at our locked fingers
(a hard knot, a mooring),
and his sharp shoulders drop—eyes closed, head shaking no—
because he still has a heart, and it won’t stop breaking.

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