(Poetry for Students)


The woman described in "At the Cancer Clinic" is clearly at odds with her body. She does not have the strength to walk on her own, struggling with each step. The narrator describes her as staring at her feet as she walks, as if they are independent of her and she is interested in what they are doing. Her body is not under her control.

Cancer is a state in which cells grow without control. As opposed to normal cells, which reproduce in an orderly fashion and limit themselves, cancer cells are inclined to keep growing, creating tumors and blockages that impede the body's normal functions. It is plain to see that the woman described in this poem is very ill. One of the ironies of treating cancer is that some of the most effective treatments, most notably chemotherapy and radiation therapy, weaken the body; they have to attack the cancer cells and kill them while trying to do as little harm to the good cells as possible. Someone like the woman in the poem might be more weakened by the treatment than by her disease, even though the treatment will eventually make her stronger. The point of the poem, though, is that she has surrendered neither to her illness nor to the suffering that she must go through to eradicate the illness.


Despite the fact that she is weakened, there is no sign that the woman described here feels any loss of dignity; in fact, the case is quite to the contrary. Kooser gives the detail of the "funny knit cap" to let readers know that this is a person who is not concerned with what people think of her weakened appearance. Although the narrator of the poem never talks to her or hears her talk, he can tell from her behavior that the illness that has weakened her body has not damaged her sense of pride.

The poem plays off of the common perception that a person in as diminished a physical...

(The entire section is 780 words.)