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Poetry and Medicine
July 21, 2004

Washing the Car

Author Affiliations

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

JAMA. 2004;292(3):311. doi:10.1001/jama.292.3.311

His last Thanksgiving the tumors took
a holiday and he straightened
that riddled spine between the sweet
potatoes and pumpkin pie
while the women cleared turkey bones
and salad plates. He shoved up
from the chair and gentled
into warm November light.
Then he uncoiled our host's hose,
sprayed the recent Buick, sponged it,
and tenderly polished circles in the chrome
with the old chamois from the trunk
while dishes steamed in a sink inside.
And while the coffee brewed no one missed
him yet, but some of us were lucky
to catch this last chore through the glass—
one bent man managing to love
what work was left to do,
still improving as he failed.
He couldn't know his place in time
depended less on sharing family chatter
than on this memory, the grace
of metal glinting in the moon
as a hopeful woman rolled her husband
home that night asleep in his clean car.