The speaker in this short poem is a physician whose father's "castrated body" is "crooked in prostatic pain." From the family home in Tennessee, the dying man's wife provides daily phone reports to the son about her husband's deteriorating condition. The speaker's mind swirls with conflicting feelings: he thinks about "Dr. Death," whose efforts he has just come to understand; he thinks about the suffering experienced by his father and his mother's "terminal voice"; and he considers "how many of those little pain killers it might take."

Similarly, recollection of the Hippocratic vows intrudes to counsel against the kind of assistance his filial nature wants to provide. The internal debate about choices directs readers back to the title's imperative, "let's talk about it," suggesting, I believe, the need for social and professional discourse about quality of life, futility, and physician-assisted-suicide.


The poem can be paired with Mercy by Richard Selzer and My Death by Raymond Carver (see this database).

Primary Source

Annals of Behavioral Science: I/I (1994)