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Poetry and Medicine
September 22/29, 2010

When I Die

JAMA. 2010;304(12):1302. doi:10.1001/jama.2010.1137

When I die, let it not be winter
sifting me into ash, the bitter ice
making me colder than extinction,
the ground too hard
to take my body into its arms,
the sky too heavy for my soul.
Let it not be spring, when grass
awakens, trees and all good things
smell of the earth, my bedfellow,
making me jealous of blossom, bird
and seedlings waiting to burst.
Let it not be summer, friend of bees
and butterflies, baseball and picnics.
How could I bear to leave the soft nights
with their long hair blowing,
the lights of glowworms and stars?
Let it be autumn, when evening
lifts like a curtain, revealing
the last dance of zinnias, the curve
of spiked lavender like lifted eyebrows,
Russian sage trembling like f-holes
in the body of a violin.
In autumn, may death surprise me
as I prepare for winter, store garden tools
in the garage, exchange cotton for wool,
listen for the heater's low rattle,
put the kettle on for tea.
In autumn, death will feel
like steam rising from the grass
on the first cool day, when trees
bend and swoon in unsuspecting winds
and the soil is still warm and shivering,
waiting for me.