Her last, first breath” in-Training, the peer-reviewed online publication for medical students

To my corpse and to all those affected by SARS-CoV-2.

As I unzip the synthetic shroud,

he takes his last, first breath:

a final expiration of the plastic pleura

before getting to know each other.

The bag sits atop her figure.

Disturbed by fiery fluorescence

refracting its lobular enclosure,

I listen before daring to cut or move or even look.

His last word deserved to be heard.

The lamentations of praise for the missing bodies begin.

“Can we share a moment of collective silence?

for those who couldn’t hear

the sound of their last, first breath.

The plastic peels off to the bare head and shoulders and

the arms and fingertips that perhaps once traced the lips of lovers

or anchored palmar grips. Its endless stories

asleep and unrecognized as I deliver him:

stillborn now alchemized.

To me he entrusted his body, his ship

so that I can map its uncharted depths.

What a treasure for me to take it down

after spending his life getting back on his feet.

He is only a sliver of the outside world:

without preservatives but full of pathology.

His final stasis at our ephemeral stoppage of

pandemonium, pandemic, panem et circenses.

Performative breaks for hospitalized patients, healers:

by those who hear but no longer listen,

to those who stand on the shoulders of giants,

to those who heard the last, the first breath.

Death pits and anatomical abnormalities

wrestle the spirit with its menacing mortality.

But so does the fatal acceleration in your chest

when all you can think about is— am i next?

My favorite classmate,

teacher, patient, muse

has always been dead.

But what about us, the living left behind?

I hope we break down

in the tastes of his rest

waiting to take

our last, first breath.


Poetry Thursdays is an initiative that highlights poems by medical students. If you are interested in contributing or would like to learn more, please contact our editors.


Cade Hermann Cade Herman (1 Posts)

Contributing author

Tufts University School of Medicine

Cade is a burgeoning third-year medical student at Tufts University School of Medicine in Boston, MA Class of 2024. In 2020, he graduated from Tulane University with a Bachelor of Science in Neuroscience and a Bachelor of Arts in French. He enjoys photography and traveling in his spare time. After graduating from medical school, Cade would like to pursue a career in neonatology.

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