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Poetry and Medicine
July 14, 1999

Intensive Care Nursery

JAMA. 1999;282(2):116I. doi:10.1001/jama.282.2.116

for George, age 12

Through the end of winter that year
I had to reach through a porthole to touch you,
careful not to disturb the ivy of tubing
twining over your tiny body.
I'd stroke your fingernails, soft as petals,
with my scrubbed red thumb.
Sometimes it was a place with its own peculiar claim
to beauty: the nurses wearing gauzy green covers
and matching gloves, swaying
like solemn but comely bridesmaids;
the beeping in the dark, a type of music
orchestrated to take those on board—somewhere.
Then there was that night, my eyes found
a list of Frequently-Dialed Numbers
near the phone hanging on the nursery wall.
In line between lab and pharmacy
stood morgue,
a word that caught me on its curved, dark hooks.
When we escaped, you wore a gown with rocket ships
and wires stuck to your chest with thick circles
of glue. A monitor was slung over my shoulder
so that I could see your heart's rhythmic red beats
blossom into the air of a new world,
far from those six typed letters,
into a brightness of birds, of sun, of green—
known as spring on earth.