The World Book

Cramer, Steven

Primary Category: Literature / Poetry

Genre: Poem

Annotated by:
Belling, Catherine
  • Date of entry: Oct-03-1997


In the past, the father has tried to help the child cope with earache by showing him how the ear works, providing a visual image of the ear's anatomy from the encyclopedia. It didn't help the pain. Now that the father is chronically ill, his adult son tries to help, but cannot (even with an encyclopedia that purports to contain the entire world) produce a visual image, or metaphor, to explain the illness, or "what brought us here." Instead, he gives his father a Walkman, hoping that the music will "help him pass the hours in dialysis."

The son can see his father's blood, circulating in the dialysis machine (just as the father helped the son visualize what was happening in his sore ear), but the son cannot feel (or see, or hear--or, even though he's a poet, find a metaphor to convey) what it is like to be his father. This isolation is ironically emphasized by the son's gift: because of the Walkman, the father falls asleep "to a music I can't hear / And for which there is no metaphor."


This short poem (nine three--line stanzas) effectively conveys the sad incommunicability of suffering. It presents each participant's loving attempt to share the other's experience by means of symbolic images--the illustration in the encyclopedia, the attempt to visualize healing, the metaphors in the poem--but shows that, despite their efforts at closeness, each is ultimately alone in his illness. They can only partially alleviate each other's pain. What helps the father paradoxically cuts him off further from the son. At the same time, the poem offers a moving reminder of how important the attempt is to imagine and inhabit the suffering of a loved one (or of any patient).

Primary Source

Articulations: The Body and Illness in Poetry


Univ. of Iowa Press

Place Published

Iowa City, Iowa




John Mukand