The poem is divided into six stanzas, each titled by a successive day. The subject of the poem is a woman's reaction to mammography and the unexpected "spot" that is discovered. The woman is shown the spot on the mammogram, and the agony begins: does she have breast cancer? The exam occurs on Thursday; she must wait until the following Tuesday to find out.

Meanwhile, life and relationships take on new meanings and tenderness. For instance, at a large family reunion, she is determined to laugh with the family about childhood reminiscences, even though her laughter is now bittersweet (she keeps her torment private from all but her lover).

Other days are filled with worry and nightmare. At long last, during a perfunctory call from her physician, she finds out that the spot is merely a protein deposit. Relieved, she thanks the physician, who remains uninformed of the depth of her patient's recent torment.


This poem works well in a literature and medicine course as a window to the patient's experience. The tests and procedures which health professionals order can have a profound effect on the patient--even if the results turn out to be normal. The poem can be read aloud in stanzas by six successive students, which gives each day a new voice. The poem's ending can be compared to 0023 by Raymond Carver (see this database), a poem which also ends with the patient expressing thanks to a doctor from force of habit.

Primary Source

Life on the Line


Negative Capability

Place Published

Mobile, Ala.




Sue Brannan Walker & Rosaly Demaios Roffman