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Poetry and Oncology
July 1, 2021

Confession at Bedside

Author Affiliations
  • 1Harvard Medical School, Boston, Massachusetts
JAMA Oncol. 2021;7(9):1411. doi:10.1001/jamaoncol.2021.2034

I planted a yellow flower
in my chest, he tells me.
I don’t know much about it,
except this tumor has traveled
far & has started growing.
Stabbing pain? I ask him, &
he shakes his head. No heat,
but pressure. Like flat embers
at a campfire, only that it
leaves from the mouth, open
at night, the body numinous
& draped in a thirst for gentle
dreams. I’m afraid, he whispers.
Not of dying, but of waking up
& gasping for breath. Powerless
to give it all up. In defiance I tell
him not to worry. That everything
dissolves. That your longing, this
desire for separation, is sacrament
enough. I approach & take his hands,
almost in childlike wonder, feel
the coarseness lapping back &
forth. He takes a few more breaths.
They are louder, steadier. I see
shades of a smile crinkled in his
eyes before they close & his head bows.
As if the flower has fully bloomed. As if
it is too beautiful to share.

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