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Poetry and Medicine
February 23, 2000

Last Date

Author Affiliations

Poetry and Medicine Section Editor: Charlene Breedlove, Associate Editor.

JAMA. 2000;283(8):977. doi:10.1001/jama.283.8.977

Unstoppered bottle against slender neck, she strokes
on the remains, saved these many months he has
lain in the hospital. Forever. His favorite scent,
the same one she wore with the scarlet flounced dress
on that first date, four decades ago. She smoothes
the pleats of her skirt, twirls, straightens
her hat. He loved hats, especially this one's
polka-dotted veil, closeted until now
with the lace handkerchief she dropped, mischief
in her eyes, when she first spotted him. She brushes
her hair, once lava gold, into curlicues of silver, behind
each rimpled ear; he liked making her shake it
all loose, just so he could push it back, lift it high,
hold it in his hands, then drop it again. Their
little games. She slips on the cracked heels, tight
but still fitting; they seem to understand
it has been a long time. At the last minute,
she remembers the bracelet, its charms each
signifying a tryst of enchantment, the magic
captured on wrist in myriad designs. She fumbles
with the clasp; he had done that for her so many
times. At last she is ready—then stumbles, realizing
he will not be at the door. At the hospital, she
pauses in front of his room, daubs lips pressed
by time, then slips inside. A young girl meeting
boy, the fleeting years cannot rob that
from her. She lies down beside him, pretends
that his sleep is not the rest of the dying,
ignores the dull beeping, shakes her hair
loose, holds him in her arms, and, among
all those tubes, the blips and the hisses, she
strokes his face with splayed fingers, frayed lace;
and dreams of young kisses, vintage love, little games,
saucy veils, first dates and gold-plated charms.