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Poetry and Medicine
June 8, 2005

Dying

JAMA. 2005;293(22):2698. doi:10.1001/jama.293.22.2698

Frail as a lover in a dream who fades
into shadow just before our lips meet,
I feel my life slide away, my weight
eighty pounds, down from one-sixty,
my body a shade in the mirror,
as if the only thing real were the ribs,
my frame two-by-fours nailed sideways
to a slat of rotten wood. Light left
my eyes three weeks ago; now heartbeats
hit thin skin stretched over bones,
lub-dub reassuring my ears.
Not-dead, not-dead, but soon—
two weeks, the doc said,
and I thanked her for the truth,
my arms too weak to shake a hand.
I’m glad I’m here for a little while,
perhaps to hear my grandson sing
his newborn song and feel
his heartbeat fluttering beneath my hand
like the wings of some wild hummingbird
outside an open window.

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