Hektoen International

A Journal of Medical Humanities

What Matters

Anne Clemente
Charlottesville, Virginia, United States


Poet’s statement: When I worked in the Palliative Care Unit, a friend of mine died leaving her child behind. At that time, I had been working on the second half of this poem. Her young death made me deeply wonder how one prepares and grieves for oneself and those left behind. I became inspired to write what is now the beginning, and the two pieces melded together beautifully.

What matters

What does it mean
to die at forty-five?

What layers of memories
do you peel off
like a wool sweater
on a spring morning?

Wiosna (Spring), 1933 - Watercolor, ink, pastel on paper by Leon Wyczólkowski
Wiosna (Spring), 1933

Leon Wyczólkowski, Polish (1852-1936)

Watercolor, ink, pastel on paper

71 x 79 cm


At forty-five with the end in sight
feeling as if you know
everything and nothing,
do you teeter like a child
to keep your balance
to find the mirror
and recognize yourself?

With this vision you know
what matters:
Your child’s drawing of golden sun blazing on blue sky.
The sound of waves on rocky shores at low tide.
The certain roundness of buttons and pills.

When a bed becomes your new geography
and the number of pillows
help you gain altitude,
what matters
as the coolness of clean sheets
warm to your touch
and chips of ice
are stars in your mouth.

What matters
when you see your loved ones
for the last time
and they stand like beacons
and count every breath.

What matters
as everyday you sink softly,
silently, deeper into the folds
of the white linen
and only you
hear the click of the door
start to open.

What matters
is that you’re held
closer than memory
by the hearts that have
helped you come
and helped you go.



ANNE CLEMENTE, MSW, LCSW writes for her own exploration and need for corralling an experience. She believes every life is rich if you take the time to notice its small, innocuous details.


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

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