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Poetry and Medicine
July 21, 2010

Werneth Low, Northern England

JAMA. 2010;304(3):249. doi:10.1001/jama.2010.670

Lace curtains are sentinels in a window.
Clouds come unbidden, as always, smudging
the edges of tiled roofs, the trees' breathless wavering.
Even the birds grow quiet, obscured in the hedge,
rabbits curled in their warrens,
a power tool breaking up cement somewhere
in the village where double-decker buses
lean large and red around corners.
One must be careful at our age.
The climb is steep and the pebbles on the path
slippery even in dry weather. Above the city,
one meadow leads to another, some mown,
others wild with heather and sheep,
or sleepy cattle staring at nothing.
Signs posted on stiles ask that dogs
be leashed to avoid attacks on grazing beasts.
A rare orchid has been spotted
in a pasture of ordinary rye. Sheep dogs
are out, two golfers on the ridge. We wend our way
toward town, pass an old gent with two dogs and a cane,
a woman in a coat strangely blue on this day of pewter
and unbearable green.
Pebble, cloud, dog, curtain, cow—each comfortable
in its own shape, oblivious of death.
The present is all there is, an alien world of craters,
bent fruit trees, a cenotaph, and narrow dirt paths trailing
like tails of comets. The leaves already turn yellow
in the wind, the last birds twitter a warning:
Soon winter will appear on her white horse,
paler than ice, colder than snow.
Walk while you can. Take care—
the path up here can be slippery with dust.