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Poetry and Medicine
December 1, 1999

Watching Dawn on Padre Island

Author Affiliations

Edited by Charlene Breedlove, Associate Editor.

JAMA. 1999;282(21):1990E. doi:10.1001/jama.282.21.1990

From the deck, sunrise splashes the Gulf,
glistens like a highway paved with gold.
The condo's garden sprawls like seaweed
flattened by the breeze. Salt sprays the balcony,
chairs sticky with brine. Lazy as Lazarus,
I lounge with my wife, weeks after doctors
sawed my chest bones wide and lifted out my heart.
Holding hands, we watch the waves, the sandhill cranes,
beaks to the wind like weather vanes. Last month,
I listened to neighbors telling fables of near-death,
as if words would console me—a light so bright,
agony wouldn't matter. Maybe like this blazing stairway
to the sun, glittering over millions of sharks
and tarpons. The glare's so bright I'm blind,
and flip sunglasses down from my scalp and blink.
Pain makes surgery easy—a silly, giddy relief,
a straw to grab for, touch of a master's hand—
easy, wheeled down the hall to a bright-lit room
that dazzles, forbidden to friends, to family.
I remember counting back, then odd confusion
in a recovery room, like waking dazed in a cave
or casket, bright light and voices, but whose?
And what were they saying, what happened
and where was this, wondering why can't I rise
and throw off these winding sheets and walk.