Kirchwey, Karl

Primary Category: Literature / Poetry

Genre: Poem

Annotated by:
Coulehan, Jack
  • Date of entry: Jan-26-1999


This poem describes the ineffable experience of

having a barium enema to answer the question, "has time betrayed you yet?" While it is summer outside, inside the room "numbers flee across / banked screens." The narrator tries not to be there, but he is. Soon he will "pass a gallon, / more or less, of latex enamel, / as blooms of cramp go on and on." He sees the barium as it moves through the compartments of his large intestine, and he reflects that "life is so common"--but not his life.


This is a well-crafted formalist poem in seven quatrains with a consistent a-b-a-b pattern of off-rhyming, or (to use Emily Dickinson’s term) slant-rhyming. For example, the slant-rhymes in the first stanza are "region / question" and "what / yet." The poem’s epigram is from Octavio Paz, "Light is time thinking about itself." This is a brief, somewhat humorous, enlightenment that derives from thinking about an awkward time.


This is a 28-line poem.

Primary Source

The Engrafted Word


Henry Holt

Place Published

New York