This collection of 36 poems, some of which have been published individually in various literary magazines, is primarily about dead--or nearly dead--family members: a brother and sister lost to cancer; the speaker's palsied, nearly blind father dying of Parkinson's disease; his mother's struggle with chronic arthritis and heart disease.

The collection is divided into three untitled sections. The first deals primarily with the aging and death of the speaker's parents; the second with a wider range of abandonment and death, lost loves, dreams, innocence; the third almost exclusively with his sister's six year struggle with breast cancer and dying.


Shapiro acknowledges the physicality, indignities and embarrassment of illness--his father helpless and naked before him, "the penis slack and floating beneath the belly fat" ("The Bath"), or his sister "leashed to the catheter" showing "almost decorously . . . beneath the blanket, / running down under the guardrails to the urine bag" ("Hand"). "We need customary speech but knew no custom."

Preserving their dignity and humanity by averting his gaze, granting privacy at just the right moments, rubbing moisturizing cream into his father's callused, swollen feet; or noticing him on his knees wiping up urine when the toilet bowl was missed, the poet reveals touching moments that honor without sentimentalizing the complexities and human majesty of catastrophic illness and bereavement.

Shapiro's strong, sensual, often erotic language and themes merit comparison with Sharon Olds's poems about her terminally ill father's dying and death (see annotations of poems from The Father, this database).


This collection won the Kingsley Tufts Poetry Award (2001).


Univ. of Chicago Press

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