Death at a Distance

Your message hung on the phone line

like his striped shirt blowing
in the last wind of his life:
softly and with dignity.
His facial bones,
and body contours
he allowed to be chiseled
to an insubstantial sharpness
by the flow of chemicals and
the relentless labor of his disease:
both polished his body to dust.
Your life that has breathed that dust
for years will, someday,
carry it to the stars,
where it belongs.

About the poet:

Edwin Gardiner, a urologist, was in private practice for thirty years in San Diego; he did his surgical training at UCSF and NYU-Bellevue Medical Center. “I’ve written since my undergraduate days at Amherst College but have had only essays and professional monographs published before. From the early 1980s on, I occasionally wrote poetry, but since retiring I’ve found poetics an essential part of sampling the temperature of my daily life.”

About the poem:

The man in this poem and I were friends for many years. This poem was a whisper of condolence to his wife upon receiving a phone call with the news of his death. Though the poem is “occasional” in the sense of being inspired by an event, the act of constructing it became a way for me to transform the sadness I felt, using the biological effects of dying to examine a more generalized transformation of biological matter into the balanced structure of the universe. With his wife as his lover and caretaker, I’m hinting at her related role as a messenger of this larger transformation of us all.

Poetry editors:

Judy Schaefer and Johanna Shapiro

About the Poem

Share on facebook
Share on google
Share on twitter
Share on linkedin
Share on email


Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

More Poems

Popular Tags
addiction alcohol addiction allergies anatomy lab bedside manner bigotry breast cancer cancer caregiver stories caregiving chemotherapy child abuse childbirth children chronic illness complementary therapies connecting with patients coping with death coping with illness coping with patient death cross-cultural health care cultural competence death and dying death of a parent dementia depression diabetes disability doctor-patient communication doctor-patient relationship doctor as patient doctor poems doctor stories drug addiction end of life end of life decision making faith family medicine forgiveness frustration with healthcare system genetic disorders geriatrics getting the news healing health care policy health care politics health insurance HIV humor ill parent immigration inequality international health labor and delivery leukemia medical errors medical student stories medical training medicine memorable patients mental health mental health professional stories mental illness military medicine miracles miscarriage mistakes neuroscience nurse poems nurse stories ob/gyn palliative care parent stories Parkinson's disease patient-centered care patient poems patient stories pediatrics personal remembrance physician assistant stories poem poems/poetry pregnancy PTSD race realizing human mortality resident stories role modeling self care social determinants of health social issues social worker stories spirituality stress and burnout suicide surgery thanksgiving the bad doctor visuals war veteran
Scroll to Top