Dear World

Allen, Paula Gunn

Primary Category: Literature / Poetry

Genre: Poem

Annotated by:
Stanford, Ann Folwell
  • Date of entry: May-02-2006
  • Last revised: Dec-12-2006


In this poem, the speaker’s mother has lupus [systemic lupus erythematosis], a "disease / of self-attack" where, for example, when the police arrive at a mugging, "they beat up on you / instead of on your attackers." The speaker goes on to reflect on the logic of such an illness residing in the body of "A halfbreed woman" who, for historical reasons, "can hardly do anything else / but attack herself." Being Indian and white, the speaker says, "cancel each other out. / Leaving no one in the place," which would be fine except that, being a woman, she must perform caring duties regardless of her circumstance. The speaker describes her mother’s physical pain, her ". . . eyes burn, / they tear themselves apart . . . / her joints swell to the point / of explosion, eruption," concluding with the observation that "when volatile substances are intertwined, / when irreconcilable opposites meet, / the crucible and its contents vaporize."


Paula Gunn Allen connects lupus and the kind of historical invisibility and internal warring that frequently occurs within a mixed-blood Native American. "Dear World" also comments on how gender plays a role in a person’s experience of illness (in this case, the mother must continue providing for her children, regardless of the pain her lupus causes her). The poem uses the biological mechanisms of lupus (self-attack) to create a trope for the experience of her mother (and other Native Americans) who are neither fully white nor fully Native American, bringing the question of identity and the construction of race to the foreground, as well as making some important observations on how the experience of disease is inextricably bound with the sufferer’s own historical and social context.

Primary Source

Skins and Bones: Poems 1979-87


West End

Place Published

Albuquerque, N. Mex.