In various ways, Ann Carson’s poem is concerned with loss and recovery. The speaker is highly aware of the passage of time and the multiple ways this impacts her life. The overall loss that she is dealing with is that of her youth. She knows that she must accept that the things that have gone cannot be recovered.
The speaker must handle specific losses in two large areas of her life, as related to her parents and her lover. Her father has almost vanished into dementia, while her mother seems more rigid and disapproving than ever. The speaker becomes increasingly conscious that the distance between them and her will keep growing as they all age. As the poem begins, the speaker has only recently split with her lover—based on his decision—and is struggling to come to terms with the loss of both the sexual and companionship aspects of their relationship.
Throughout the poem, the reader sees the speaker trying to hold together her sense of self in the face of these ongoing changes. Literature and personal vision play important roles in her coping mechanisms. She converses mentally with a favorite but long-dead author and imagines nude female bodies. Accepting that loss of the past is inevitable is also accomplished with therapy. Through the course of the poem, the heavy anxiety or depression that was burdening her gradually lifts, so the reader can also note the loss of these negative conditions.