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Poetry and Medicine
April 17, 2018

Still Life Without Skull

JAMA. 2018;319(15):1623. doi:10.1001/jama.2017.16059

The infusions were pulsed too fast,
and the doctor admitted her mistake,
but the jack-hammering in my child’s head
went on for days, not to be medicated away.
I watched my girl writhe on the floor like a worm
cut in half, and felt I was a captive in a new,
infernal circle. And though I can’t see
or hold death in my arms, it ticks
in us; and I think of old Dutch paintings
thick with vermillion, pomegranates,
over-ripe grapes blooming
from true black. Half-eaten meats house
a congregation of flies, tenacious
strings of gristle dangle and lemons peel
over the table’s edge. Here, there is no skull,
but the sparrow’s eye flickers,
a watch chain in its mouth.