Sissman, whose chronic illness inspired him to incorporate illness experiences into his writings, muses about where he is likely to die. Like an archaeologist he begins with a vivid description of factors and events contributing to various wings and pavilions. He knows this hospital well: its external facades with "Aeolian embrasures" and "marble piping" associated with certain patrons or patronesses such as "the Maud Wiggin Building . . . commemorat[ing] a dog-jawed Boston bitch".

Slowly the narrator moves from the hospital's exterior layerings to imagine himself, a patient on a gurney, wearing the "skimpy chiton" while being subjected to syringes, "buttered catheter[s]," and IV "lisps and drips." Just before death his blood will "go thin, go white" and finally, there will be a journey through the hallways to the morgue and then to the undertaker. "That's all." The account is prosaic, an inventory or catalogue of steps familiar to anyone who has worked in a hospital setting. As a poet, however, Sissman transforms the ordinary into vividly fresh portrayals.


It is interesting to consider this poem in conjunction with Gerald Weissman's essay "Bellevue: Form Follows Function" in The Woods Hole Cantata: Essays on Science and Society (Dodd, Mead; New York, 1985).


Also available in Sissman, L.E., Night Music (Boston: Houghton Mifflin) 1999.

Primary Source

Hello Darkness: The Collected Poems of L. E. Sissman


Little, Brown

Place Published





Peter Davison

Secondary Source

Hello Darkness: The Collected Poems of L. E. Sissman