Hektoen International

A Journal of Medical Humanities


Johanna Shapiro


A well dressed skeleton.

A well dressed skeleton

Photograph by Caley McIntyre

Northwestern University Feinberg Medical School, Chicago, Illinois

Class of 2011 and Mexico Fulbright-Garcia Robles Alum, 2009




Death is not my lover

– that would be morbid –

nor even my best friend

– though some say he can be that –

He is merely become

my near neighbor

having taken up residence next door

We are friendly

in a cool sort of way

Sometimes we wave

when we are pulling out from our driveways

I off to my work

he off to…his

We both joined the local Neighborhood Watch

to guard against suspicious elements

so he keeps an eye on me

– and I on him

Every so often, he borrows a cup of sugar

(so old-fashioned!)

I do not borrow anything from him

as I do not wish to be in his debt

I admit to some of the usual prejudices

before I got to know him better

The skeletal hands hanging menacingly

from that creepy robe

The hood, the scythe – it was so over the top

But in person he is more ordinary

He doesn’t even know how to play chess

and he is fond of gardening –

for which you must agree the scythe

makes some sense

In fact, as Miss Dickinson surmised,

he is a perfect gentleman

Although he works hard

he is never too busy to stop and chat

Do I think it looks like rain? he’ll ask

Or have I heard our property taxes are going up…


Nothing certain but death and taxes

he likes to joke

Of course, we have the occasional

neighborly dispute

– my hedge is grown too high

his dog leaves unwanted gifts on my lawn –

But we work it out

That’s what neighbors do

And when at last I take that long trip

into eternity

I will have no qualms

about asking him to collect my mail


JOHANNA SHAPIRO, PhD is professor of family medicine and director of the Program in Medical Humanities & Arts at the University of California – Irvine’s School of Medicine. As a psychologist and medical educator, she has focused her research and scholarship on various aspects of the doctor-patient relationship, including physician interactions with “difficult,” stigmatized, and culturally diverse patient populations. She is feature editor of the Family Medicine column, “Literature and the Arts in Medical Education,” poetry editor for Families, Systems, & Health, and poetry co-editor for the e-magazine Pulse. Her recent book, The Inner World of Medical Students: Listening to Their Voices in Poetry, is a critical analysis of important themes in the socialization process of medical students as expressed through their creative writing.


Highlighted in Frontispiece Spring 2010 – Volume 2, Issue 2

Spring 2010  |  Sections  |  Poetry

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