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Poetry and Medicine
July 26, 2006

Your Mother’s Death

Author Affiliations

Poetry and Medicine Section Editor: Charlene Breedlove, Associate Editor. Poems may be submitted to

JAMA. 2006;296(4):370. doi:10.1001/jama.296.4.370

It could come casual as a black and white photograph
falling from a cardboard album, the photo never
having been glued in place, just inserted between
what now are crumbling construction paper pages.
Come subtle as the swan at the pond's edge, solitary,
its neck a question mark reflected on the water.
Come as the small boat, two women in starched white
dresses, seeming to row toward your mother poised,
her perfect nose, that look in her eyes.
You have not seen this snapshot before.
Your mother elegant and trim in matching skirt
and jacket buttoned to a single strand necklace,
maybe a cameo, a medallion, suspended
between her breasts, virginal—a word
your mother might have written in her diary.
She seems almost delicate in her wide-brimmed hat
with its band of flowers, her furled parasol
jaunty at her side, her beaded purse, the paper sack
of bread crumbs, its opening neatly rolled—an offering
for the swan, what is left after the trail of crumbs
dropped to mark the path back
should the Victorian-white ladies in the boat
turn pale as bone, their proper lips spread wide and dry,
the swan become a goose. . ., nothing turning out as expected.