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Poetry and Medicine
March 22/29, 2000

What Grown-ups Do

Author Affiliations

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

JAMA. 2000;283(12):1538. doi:10.1001/jama.283.12.1538

Traveling is like having an operation—
you have to trust the hands of the drivers, the pilots,
and the harried man in the invisible control tower
just as you would the neurosurgeon
in his sickly green gown and the nurse,
who also has tired eyes, but is more earthbound.
In Pittsburgh my father's soul
is packed for its own journey, and I'm entering
this higher altitude for the first time.
Because I am a child at heart,
I don't want to learn what it is grown-ups do:
Die alone. Or travel alone to see the dying.
How will I know if our paths cross?
When the airplane flies up in its long, lazy tilt,
I inhale as if I'm going under—the whir of wing flaps
like anesthesia's bellows, opening and closing,
the distant captain's voice announcing cruising altitude
like a doctor saying, Time to sleep.
When I arrive to embrace my father,
it is like waking up into life.
He is small as a boy in his bed, stripped and ready.