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Poetry and Medicine
June 13, 2001

Oranges for My Sister When She Was Nine

Author Affiliations

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

JAMA. 2001;285(22):2828. doi:10.1001/jama.285.22.2828

I'd squeeze and squeeze until the strainer clogged,
orange pulp and seeds that filled a cup,
all for one orange juice apiece.
My sister always took the glass
with more bubbles, foam like Daddy's beer.
Hot summer brought out her best, even in bed
with an IV dripping in her arm, her favorite scarf
knotted at her throat, loose over her bald scalp.
Always, she made me sip mine first and sigh
and wipe my lips with my wrist. She licked
the rim of her glass and tipped her tongue
to the foam, leaned back and closed her eyes.
She was nine, and spoiled me, a boy of five
she claimed was her nephew, not a bratty brother
like boys her friends whined about.
I never knew why. She was my favorite sister,
who died while I was in school one noon,
chewing peanut butter and bread,
sipping canned juice through a straw
until it was gone, when a teacher leaned down
and whispered I was needed at home.