Does the Light Fail Us, or Do We Fail the Light?

Piercy, Marge

Primary Category: Literature / Poetry

Genre: Poem

Annotated by:
Moore, Pamela
  • Date of entry: Jan-29-1997


In this poem, the narrator describes her father who is in a nursing home suffering from dementia. The poem opens with a description of the narrator's dying cat, with whom her father is compared. The most distinctive thing about the father's anger and confusion is his loss of power. In a home he is denied access to his money, his house, even his ability to boss others around. He calls his daughter and insists that she is not his daughter at all, but his wife.

He feels as if it's the wrong year, "and the world bristles with women who make short hard statements like men and don't apologize enough, who don't cry when he yells or makes a fist." He has lost his masculinity. He accuses his daughter of stealing his money, the money he hoarded from her as she grew up and that is now useless to him. No one on the ward remembers or cares that he once walked the picket line, worked, or had a desirable wife. He is as angry as "a four-hundred-horsepower car," but he has lost his license to drive.


This poem is simple yet potent. Piercy captures the stubbornness of demented elders without losing her compassion. Indeed, the father's rage is perfectly understandable. One feels for his impotence.

Primary Source

My Mother's Body



Place Published

New York