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Poetry and Medicine |

Ralph Angelo Attends the Barbeque

Jack Coulehan, MD
JAMA. 2012;308(20):2065. doi:10.1001/jama.2012.13271.
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Extract

At the St Charles Nursing Home barbeque picnic,
Ralph Angelo, in his signature straw hat,
cranes his neck toward Gary, the man with a mike
and Hawaiian shirt, who badgers us to clap
to the thrumming boom box on a chair beside him,
chanting, Heart of my heart I love that melody.
Ralph holds a tissue in each hand. He presses one
against the side of his veined nose, the other
to the crease of his mouth to collect the drool.
On Ralph's tray are plastic cups of thickened juice
and pureed hamburger. Heart of my heart brings back
a memory. I feed him, and Gary ribs the crowd
for not jumping up to dance in the meadow, a joke
that falls flat and gets dirty looks. When Ralph
puts his lips in motion, they glide like snails
across bricks. His puff of consonants disappears
below the noise. His vowels die off without a trace.
I kneel and put my ear at his face to listen,
but Ralph's lips reflect a body being
yanked to the ground while hanging from a nail
in the entryway. Embarrassed, I ask Ralph what he means,
but his face discloses stony lips, watery eyes,
nothing else, and Gary continues Oh,
you beautiful girl You great big beautiful girl.
Volunteers pass by us distributing ice cream cups
that remind me of the icy chasm I can't cross.

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