This strong, powerful poem of grief for the death of an infant son in an intensive care unit is written by a poet who lost two of his five children. The rhythm of the poem is jazz, pulsing and pulsating, with well-controlled rests. Some words are run together: " . . . mamaborn, sweetsonchild / gonedowntown into researchtestingwarehousebatteryacid" which evokes (among other things) the frenzied atmosphere of a neonatal intensive care unit and the seemingly inevitable rush towards death.

Much of the poem deals with the distrust of the medical community, which is emphasized by the divide of race: the white doctors and nurses in white uniforms versus the African-American patient and family. The frustration of dependence on others is painful for the father during the nightmare of his baby’s dying. However, the poet reaches a higher level of understanding about his pain and grief; he acknowledges that the baby did receive all that medicine had to offer and he recognizes the complicated responsibilities one acquires by experiencing a loss.


The poet reads and comments on this poem in the Public Broadcasting System Bill Moyers series, "The Language of Life." A book based on the series, The Language of Life: A Festival of Poets, contains the poem and commentary (ed. Bill Moyers; Doubleday, NY, 1995).

Primary Source

Images of Kin: New and Selected Poems


Univ. of Illinois Press

Place Published

Champaign, Ill.