The poem begins, "I'm mighty glad to see you, Mrs. Curtis." The speaker is a woman who is dying of leukemia and Mrs. Curtis is the lady who comes around periodically with the book-cart, offering patients something to read. While the other patients are celebrating the holiday with family or friends, the speaker, who has no visitors, feels conspicuous and lonely. Thus, she is grateful for Mrs. Curtis' regular visit, especially since the book-cart lady appears willing to sit down and listen.

The patient's father is afraid to visit, since he knows "that I will predecease him / which is hard enough." Chemotherapy hasn't helped. The leukemia makes her so fatigued that she doesn't even feel like reading. So instead, she sits by the window and looks at the trees. Since the leaves have fallen, the trees look like "magnificent enlargements / Of the vascular system of the human brain."

The patient has given names to these "discarnate minds." For example, "there, near the path, / Is the great brain of Beethoven, and Kepler / Haunts the wide spaces of that mountain ash." These trees remind her of "The Transparent Man," a toy one of her friends had when they were girls. "It was made of plastic, with different colored organs, / And the circulatory system all mapped out / In rivers of red and blue." At the time she and her friend giggled, but now she remembers the intricacy with amazement, and stares at the riddle of the trees.

The dying patient decides not to take one of the books, but thanks Mrs. Curtis again for coming. [120 lines]


This dying patient yearns for companionship. Yet no one visits her, except the book-cart lady, whose books are no longer of any value. What is of value, though, is Mrs. Curtis's willingness to listen. Notice she says nothing; she simply witnesses. Somehow she establishes an empathic connection with the patient, who otherwise sits for hours and looks out at the bare trees.

But the patient also has a relationship with the trees. She transforms them. They become the vasculature of enormous brains, all of which in some deep sense are connected, both spatially and temporally (insofar as they recall "The Transparent Man" of her childhood). Her own brain, the brain that allows her to imagine and be grateful and remember, is part of that same great reality.


Preface by Richard Wilbur

Primary Source

Sixty Years of American Poetry


Henry N. Abrams

Place Published

New York




Robert Penn Warren