Top of the Hill

Erika Walker ~

“It’s as if you’re at the top of a hill,”
the doctor said. My father listened
from his hospital bed, a plastic tube

fed him breath he could no longer take
for himself. “Each time you get sick,”
the doctor said, “you roll a little farther

down the hill.” His young face shone
above his white coat. I remember rolling
down green hills when I was young,

playing in the park where my father
had played as a child. I laughed, loved
the bump and thrill, the sweet smell

of summer grass. I raced my brother
to the top so we could fall again.
“We can catch you,” the doctor said

and looked away. “But we can never
get you back to the top of the hill.”
I see my father roll now, gather speed,

the ties of his hospital gown flail
like small hands. The doctor and I
reach to catch him, grass stains

the doctor’s coat, my fingernails fill
with mud. My father closed his eyes.
If he remembered hills, he did not say.

About the poet:

Erika Walker lives in Denver. Her writing has appeared in American Baby Magazine and in numerous business publications. She coauthored Denver Mountain Parks: 100 Years of the Magnificent Dream, which won the 2014 Colorado Book Award (history category), and her essay “Farewell to the Boy Wizard” ran in Literary Mama in 2016. She recently completed a memoir, Loyalty Was a Kind of Love, about the loss of her father.

About the poem:

“My elderly father had emphysema and congestive heart failure, but was living independently until pneumonia sent him to the hospital, then to rehab and eventually to assisted living, where he passed away eighteen months later. During his decline and death, writing helped me stay grounded and present. We were running out of time, and I wanted to fully experience and remember all the moments we had left. This poem portrays the conversation with the doctor in which I finally understood that my father was dying–something very hard for me to face.”

Poetry editors:

Johanna Shapiro and Judy Schaefer

About the Poem

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

Comments

4 thoughts on “Top of the Hill”

  1. I cannot tell you how much this poem has effected me. I have thought so much about the words Bill Thomas uses to describe the process that so many elderly folks face as they begin the roll. I watched my father and now my mother roll down hill and now I have words for it. Thank you.

  2. Patti A Carroll

    Dear fellow Denverite, this poem is excellent. I love the flow of it, the connection you bring between your father and the doctor. Well done! However, I am very sorry you lost your father.

Leave a Reply to Gwen Cancel Reply

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 chronic illness complementary therapies confidentiality 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 frustration with healthcare system genetic disorders geriatrics getting the news healing health care policy health care politics health insurance HIV hospital 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 nursing ob/gyn palliative care parent stories Parkinson's disease patient-centered care patient poems patient stories pediatrics personal remembrance physician assistant stories 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