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Poetry and Medicine
October 7, 2009


JAMA. 2009;302(13):1402. doi:10.1001/jama.2009.1371

for my mother

She calls them by their Latin names—
Ageratum, whiteweed,
Brachycome iberidifolia, swan river daisy—
a foreign tongue to me.
For any lapse, she keeps a pocket guide nearby.
She says they wear their feelings on their leaves.
She points to one with pink blossoms, valentine-shaped,
strung along a showy raceme.
Dicentra spectabilis, Venus's car, bleeding heart.
Under her care, none dare wilt,
though her own heart has stumbled and failed,
bloomed sweet arrhythmias, atrial flutters
now metered beats implanted in her chest.
I help her weed and water newest shoots:
hawthorn to balance her blood's pH;
lemon balm to soothe a daughter's sleep.
She barely recalls the night her heart gave out—
mosaic of dark, tunnel of watery light,
a voice in Yiddish, calling. . .
Her favorite—Gladiolus carneus, sword lily,
painted lady—I name Gladys for short.
She says plants reach for the sun, always,
but even dazzled, will not let go.

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