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Poetry and Medicine
September 28, 2011

Burning Faith

JAMA. 2011;306(12):1298. doi:10.1001/jama.2011.1179

The things you did in the war. There is no explanation
for youth. Now 88, your right hand shakes, your voice is soft,
and your balance shot.
Blackbirds defending their nest harass a hawk
passing overhead. You know that game.
Just trying to make your run and get home in one piece.
A bright March morning. The sights were off—
you were sure of it.
That bone white church had no right
being on the west side of the Rhine.
You saw everything from the cockpit
and now, your recliner.
One bell from the clock. It's the Sunday
before Lent, your favorite.
You’ll be early to church like you were then.
Even if the pews are empty
you're content
to sit and think—pray a little.
A steady hand when you reach
for the hymnal. Bach, page 34
   O eternal fire, O love,
   You will collect your souls. . .
You look outside during the sermon—
watch the birds.
    Children running out, eyes wider
    than their screams,
    a few of them with ash only on their foreheads.