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Poetry and Medicine
February 7, 2007

Elegy With a Song in It

Author Affiliations

Poetry and Medicine Section Editor: Charlene Breedlove, Associate Editor. Poems may be submitted to jamapoems@jama-archives.org.

JAMA. 2007;297(5):444. doi:10.1001/jama.297.5.444

This is how I lost her. First, she begged
to see her father again, long dead. Or turned
to me at dusk, fretful—Let's go home now.
Then, she filled up her fridge with half-eaten
plums, withered grapes. On her bed I found
mango peels, wrapped in her hanky.
To bring her home but keep on working, I lied
to get her into daycare, said she could hold
her own. But she failed their test—
Folding paper four ways, leaning over.
Too many confusing things to do.
She cried—I would never do this to you.
Gone, the repeated jokes, the terrible anxiety.
With an awful look, she opened her mouth
for the spoon when I fed her baby food.
No more trips to the dentist now,
nor face crèmes for wrinkles. Her hair,
dyed in the basin, grew white, fell out.
Feet swelled, ivory toenails thickened.
She forgot to sip from the straw, neglected
to swallow, to move. How long,
while bedsores gaped and bled,
it lasted, asleep, awake, propped up,
or lying mute on the bed. O my mother
lovely, frail of mind, you used to sing
your plaintive off-key aria—I am weary
unto death, O my rose with jasmine breath.