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Poetry and Medicine
May 11, 2011

Appointment at the Funeral Home

Author Affiliations

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

JAMA. 2011;305(18):1839. doi:10.1001/jama.2011.500

As if pleading with the cradle of an infant who not even for God's sake
will stop crying, the ex-wife rocks the casket she clings to until
the professional stranger who referees the morning's mourning
ushers her and then her brood somewhere they can catch their breath
in private. No gnashing and rending and howling for a moon
that's never there when needed. No flaming or zoning or flaking out.
Not that blank staring at the pyre being one with oxidation look.
Take the dancing shadows with you, back there in the corner of the eye,
a cool dark place that could use some hothouse flowers. Hard not to glance
in their direction after pausing at the guestbook on the way out and back
to the first patient of the afternoon. Instead of an early lunch a viewing:
respects paid, accounts settled, images cropped and filed. The body
wore its owner's favorite jacket. I remember it from clinic.
I drive by this place every day and wonder who died, who grieves,
who can summon the grace and courage to blend the grieving
and the living, to glide over ice on sharp blades and strong ankles, to march,
not hop, over embers. The choices are fire or ice or the motorcade
with police to lead the way and renegotiate the stoplights.
Take it easy. Take a moment to abide. The exercise of restraint
only needs the time it takes to place one hand against the other—
not praying for strength but invoking it—and push for a ten count.
You versus you. Then repeat endlessly while stuck in funeral traffic
cursing fate and all its drivers. Builds pecs, lats, and biceps
while stoking the metabolic furnace, the slow burn that proves we're alive.