“Dear World” is an agonizing eulogy for the living and the dead who have experienced the internal isolation of nonbelonging. Undercurrents of rage and grief score the poem’s essence. In her foreword to Jane Caputi’s Gossips, Gorgons, and Crones: The Fates of the Earth (1993), Allen explains the context of the poem, which concerns illnesses and death.
Allen once worked for the New Mexico Cancer Control Project, which dismissed discussion of such issues as radiation poisoning and toxic waste in favor of a more publicly acceptable antismoking campaign. Yet in 1976, Allen claimed, her home was using water in which “the level of lethal radiation-associated toxins” was life-threatening. Allen’s mother contracted not only lupus and diverticulitis but also lung and heart diseases. Furthermore, Allen questioned whether her mother died of the diseases or the treatments of radiation and chemical therapy. Experiencing the poem with this knowledge adds an ironic dimension to the title “Dear World.”
In the poem’s first stanza, Allen presents her mother’s point of view. Her mother sees lupus as a “self-attack”; she says that the disease is like calling the police when a mugger breaks into her home and then seeing the police attack the victim instead of the mugger. In the second and the third stanzas, Allen acknowledges the truth of her mother’s perception before continuing in an ironic tone. Historical precedents, she writes, prove that Indians and Westerners cannot coexist harmoniously. Therefore, she sees it as logical that the different genetic compositions in her mother’s blood—“its conflicting stains”—would obliterate each other.
The concluding fourteen lines of “Dear World” employ graphic sensory images to detail the disease’s progression until “the crucible and its contents vaporize.” The sadness, the devastating powerlessness, of watching a mother dying in incurable pain is exacerbated for the poet by her mother’s inability to breathe. Breath to breath is how sacred energy flows in the poet’s universe, and even that, in the end, is denied.
Self-alienation, the poet concludes, is an internalized battle between seemingly irreconcilable facets of a single sacred existence. Often, self-alienation is accompanied by other-alienation and isolation. The process, Allen says, is progressive and all-devouring unless a healing connection is reestablished and the imbalance is corrected.