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Poetry and Medicine
June 11, 2008

The Visit

Author Affiliations

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

JAMA. 2008;299(22):2604. doi:10.1001/jama.299.22.2604

A smile of recognition, a brief exchange.
      And seated only a few feet
from the TV, she resumes watching
some old movie in black and white—film noir,
      and no one I recognize.
She’ll answer questions right through
whatever plot's unfolding on the screen,
      but most of her thoughts
are out of order—a hand of cards
that needs arranging into suits. Fact or fancy?
      And which is which?
So I do the talking. And she peers out
absently, a reader stuck on a paragraph,
      back and forth
over the same sentences—the whole time
her fingers busy on her lap, knitting
      without yarn, and the room
we're in growing smaller. Still I talk,
though there's no tug at the other end
      of the rope and by now
I’ve used up the safe topics: food, weather,
the new chair in the corner.
      On the bedside table, last week’s
roses sag in a clear vase of murky water,
and the book-lined shelves are more wall now
      than reading matter.
The air is dry. My throat, too.
Only twenty minutes—and I’m out of words,
      slipping back
into one of those moments on a stopped train
where I watch the train beside me
      start to move—though all along
it's the one I’m on that's moving.