Hektoen International

A Journal of Medical Humanities

Advance Directives

Daniel Becker
Virginia, Charlottesville, United States


Poet’s statement: My poems are more narrative than lyrical, more humorous than somber, more fictional than biographic.

Advance directives

And should I ever appear in shorts that need suspenders because my hips and butt
have slid under the glacier of old age, you are directed to suspend all life support measures including, but

not limited to, a glazed Krispy Kreme and a fountain Coca-Cola for lunch
because the lunch I packed got left behind on the kitchen counter
(not the first time this week to think ahead and make a lunch and then rushing out the door
forget I thought ahead) and the donut was just sitting there—
like plums in the Williams poem—behind the nurse’s desk at the clinic.

If I can’t reach out and put the Slurpee straw between my lips and suck while driving
from hospital to house call, please don’t do that for me, and while you are not doing that
you may as well stay off the subject of driving. When you think about all the morons on the road my habit

of hugging the right curb is not as pathetic as it may seem to our kids, who like all kids have short

memories re: failure to yield or put gas in the tank.

Going back to the shorts: if lederhosen, don’t wait for nature to strip me bare.

I’d like a non-denominational service that includes chariots but excludes flames.
Not even sparklers. I like the song “Take me Jesus, take me, take me to the Promised Land”
because that sounds like fun even though I don’t believe in either and my faith,
coming out of the Borscht tradition, is barely an old wound that itches on the Sabbath.

I tell patients there are three things that get better with age: emotional intelligence
(staying calm under fire), resistance to the common cold, and I can’t remember the third …
just kidding. Scars. The old ones are camouflaged by wrinkles and the new ones fade away
like fog or short-term memory.

If my heart stops or my breathing quits, recall that I’m a private person
who likes some peace and quiet and the key to the safety deposit box is in the copper bowl.

You know those boxers with pictures of sailboats? Dinghies to tall ships?
Ship me out in those.

To put my ashes in the garden as we discussed now strikes me as sicker
than fertilizing with night soil. I wouldn’t mind the coffee can in the trunk of the car,
like my friend’s uncle, or the sweater drawer with my father.
Temporarily of course, in anything, then anywhere, underneath the burning bush.
An urn would be too earnest.



DANIEL BECKER, MD, MPH, MFA practices and teaches internal medicine at the University of Virginia School of Medicine where he also directs the Center for Biomedical Ethics and Humanities and edits Hospital Drive.


Highlighted in Frontispiece Spring 2011 – Volume 3, Issue 2
Spring 2011  |  Sections  |  Poetry

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