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Poetry and Medicine
October 2, 2002

The Unbearable Weight of Ashes

JAMA. 2002;288(13):1562. doi:10.1001/jama.288.13.1562

He recoiled from life
as abruptly as the echo
from the gunshot that took him,
leaving us staring
like severed heads on stakes
in the ringing silence.
Learning to live
with the decisions of the dead,
his parents share with us
aliquots of his ashes,
as hallowed as hosts,
dispensed in tiny rosewood boxes
no one can shoulder.
Still, we make the obligatory appearances,
say the requisite good-byes,
and deliver our last full quota of tears—
until the wailing wind
scatters us
like hope and ashes.

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