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Poetry and Medicine
July 21, 1999

Home Visit

Author Affiliations

Edited by Charlene Breedlove, Associate Editor.

JAMA. 1999;282(3):217. doi:10.1001/jama.282.3.217

We follow a blue Ford tractor pulling a wagon
and moving slowly, scattering straw like exhaust,
Southside Virginia in July, still haying season,
so hot the haze shimmies on the asphalt,
June bugs strafe the windshield,
the afternoon breeze a warm sponge.
The nurse is the guide, telling me
how to greet other drivers,
lift two fingers from the steering wheel,
only two, show some restraint;
where to park—don't crowd the son-in-law
who's not even home, still lord of the roost;
watch out for the dog, stretching a yawn,
scored ribs settling on a minor chord;
who's who as we edge through the home
front porch to back, generations ungapped,
no work, no school, no a/c; fans whir,
TV promises a better life.
We reach the kitchen and in the pantry
an old woman with electric hair
and petrified eyes hums a gospel,
she's expecting Jesus, sweet Jesus.
Surrounded by mason jars
and the sterile paraphernalia of age,
she welcomes us, more peas in the pod.
Light and air succumb to odors
fresh and stale, cooking and human.
The bed points to a screen door,
a mowed field ends at the sky,
crows crackle, the sun beckons.
Later we admire a huge cabbage,
king of the garden, peerless in the weeds.
The nurse and the daughter discuss the future,
old friends sharing summer plans, arms folded,
squinting in the sunshine, staring at the ground.
I'm there to listen and agree,
there's some shade and the breeze will last.