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Poetry and Medicine
May 2, 2012

Who He Is

Author Affiliations

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

Author Affiliation: Seattle, Washington (medjyers@hotmail.com).

JAMA. 2012;307(17):1781. doi:10.1001/jama.2012.458

Ballooned on Decadron, cheeks shined
under sugar-water eyes, he cries
soon as we trundle into his bedroom
to say our good-byes. He can't find his
glasses—they’ve wandered again.
The steroid's filled in his wrinkles
with that sudden smooth fat. He smiles,
wet face like a moon, like a mutated
child’s, nearly hairless cartoon
of the eighty-three-year-old man he is.
He still is who he is—tumor presses
his brain against the wall of his skull,
and will, and will—for how many weeks?—
till the swell of the cells, who he is
and isn't together, squeezes through
the hole in the bony enclosure's floor.
That’ll stop breathing for sure. He won't be
who he is anymore. So the evening
dose of the slower of all swelling is
raised, two milligrams to four. So?
Let his bones crumble, his immunity
lose its edge against the Staph aureus
occupying his hot red elbow—
let his emotions swirl in the hormonal
whirlwind, inhibition's lids torn
loose in the chemical blow. Let all
his blood sugars go, limbs grow spindly
and limp. Let his forgetful hand drop
the cup every time he tries to wrap
his dry lips around Hello. Let Decadron
take of him what it will, so long
as it lets him be who he is, who is now
stuttering into the vision of Murray’s
Delicatessen for lunch. He wants
to climb out of bed, drive if he could.
His thinned-out eyebrows rise, those
of a kid with an appetite taking in
the shine of a succulent world, giving us
his wishfulness, looking ahead
at the time of his life, every bit who he is.