Ted Kooser's poem "At the Cancer Clinic" is told from the point of view of a patient in a waiting room observing another patient. The woman the narrator describes is frail and too weak to walk on her own; she is being helped into the examining area by two women, who accompany her on either side. The patients in the waiting room, including the poem's narrator, marvel at the ill woman's determination and inner strength, as the poem tries to capture the feeling of awe that people often get when they realize that someone who is battling against unimaginable physical weakness is struggling to persevere with the little strength they have.
This poem is included in Kooser's 2004 collection Delights & Shadows, which was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry that year. Its plain style and clear, simple language are typical of Kooser, who has served two terms as the poet laureate of the United States. Avoiding the obvious stereotypes about infirmity that another poem might lament, "At the Cancer Clinic" invites readers to reflect on the strength of the woman and not to dwell on the illness that has ravaged her; as a result, the poem is actually a much more uplifting experience than its title might at first suggest.