There are two characters in this poem. One is the man with Parkinson's disease, who is being fed: "He will not accept the next morsel / until he has completely chewed this one." The man stands, shuffles to the toilet, pees, and then has his diaper changed. The second character is his daughter, who does the feeding and "holds his hand with her other hand, / or rather lets it rest on top of his." The daughter helps her father to the bathroom and "holds the spout of the bottle / to his old penis." On the way back, as she walks backward in front of him, "she is leading her old father into the future."

Wait a second! A third character--the subject, "I"--suddenly appears on this intimate scene. Near the end of the poem the invisible "I" turns the reader's attention to himself: "I watch them closely: she could be teaching him / the last steps that one day she may teach me." [64 lines]


This narrative poem presents the ravages of time in the form of a degenerative neurological disease. Love transcends the stinking failure of flesh. The ceremonies of care transcend the banality of eating, or slobbering, or peeing. Love is always concrete; it is always part of a story. When the narrator enters the poem, we step back and realize that the story is not just about the old man with Parkinson's disease. Rather, it is about the inevitability of loss, degeneration, aging, and death.

Primary Source

A New Selected Poems


Houghton Mifflin

Place Published