The poet stands by the bed of his afflicted mother "as my colleague prepares the syringe." His mother's right hand is still moving, but her left hand is "suspiciously still." He thinks of Death's "random, katabolic ways: / merciful sometimes, precise, but often / wild as delirium."

Various images of suffering rise in his mind--a botched suicide, a victim of war, David and Bathsheba, out of whose suffering came forth "the wise child, the Solomon." But, he asks, "what will spring from this / unredeemed, needless degradation, / this concentration camp for one?" The colleague injects the medication, while Death victoriously holds the poet's mother's left hand and "I continue uselessly / to hold the other."


This poem (7 stanzas, 56 lines) is a powerful reflection on the inexplicability of suffering and death, and on the bonds of love. The "temgesic" administered by the colleague in the poem is morphine. Is the purpose of this dose of morphine simply to ease the mother's pain? Or is it sufficient to end her life?

Primary Source

Sky in Narrow Streets


Quarterly Review of Literature

Place Published

Princeton, N.J.