Uncle Jimmie is slowly dying of cancer, "the rat that gnawed away behind his ears." Jimmie believes that cancer is part of nature and must, at some level, be accepted. At first he permits surgery--they removed his ear and cheek and upper lip--but he eventually concludes, "Stop cutting . . . let / me go to earth and snow and silver trees." However, Aunt Flo will not let him go; she reads St. Paul and prays for his recovery.

Next the surgeons remove Uncle Jimmie’s tongue (without his consent?), but his eyes "kept pleading: Stop the cutting, let me go . . . ." So then they removed his eyes. Finally, "a specialist / trimmed away one quarter of his brain ... " Jimmie is left with no memory, lying in bed among his tubes, while Auntie Flo "comes every day / to read to bandages the Word Made Flesh, / and pray, and pay the bills . . . . "


This is a powerfully understated poem about family relationships when one family member is dying. At one level, the poem describes a wife’s hanging on to her husband’s life, even when he no longer wants to continue aggressive treatment. Evidently she convinces him to have more surgery, surgery that eventually condemns him to a twilight existence. Ultimately, all that was meaningful to him as a person is gone, yet he remains "alive" in a purely biological sense.

At another level, the poem appears to condemn the religious beliefs that lead Auntie Flo to perpetrate this mischief against her husband. This anti-religious-healing perspective is also seen (more overtly) in Appleman’s poem, After the Faith Healings (see this database).


Copyright 1976, by author.

Primary Source

Articulations: The Body and Illness in Poetry


Univ. of Iowa Press

Place Published

Iowa City, Iowa




Jon Mukand