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Poetry and Medicine
June 21, 2000

Failure to Thrive

Author Affiliations

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

JAMA. 2000;283(23):3045. doi:10.1001/jama.283.23.3045

She was healthy, only seventy-five,
clear in her eyes and mind.
After dinner she would push his chair
through the lobby—nodding in time
to his tremors like an echo
of their masterful wartime tango—
straight to the boardwalk and sea.
There was little left to be said.
Gulls plucked crumbs from his palm
and the sun with a sanguine bloom
brought another summer day to its end.
Friends spoke of the strength
of her will, her kind heart
and bridge game, the grace
of her hands lost in prayer.
They loved her way with a song.
She brought to mind the days
of dirigibles, zoot suits and the last
silk stockings, the optimism of homes
with hutches in a leafy cul-de-sac.
Time fell apart when she smiled.
Then he was gone. She waited
in her room for death to arrive
again, this time as moonlight
bathing her dusty windowsill.
The doctors denied that grief
alone could kill. Soon surf
became his voice and the briny
scent of his breath was in the air.
They called this Failure to Thrive.
She turned sheer, promising
the stars to share her next meal
only with him, then lay still
among her pillows and smiled.