Hektoen International

A Journal of Medical Humanities

Hunger – Thin

Mark King




I want



Sucking in parchment over yellowed ribs

Lungs clutching at thin air

Like a crone’s wizened claw

I want

Not like infatuation

Nor envy, nor greed

More like desperation

But without the passion

I want urgently

But with resignation

I turn my eyes up to plead

And to submit

I want to live

And I want to die






Poet’s statement: My father died of pancreatic cancer a few years ago, and since then other family members and friends have developed cancer. Some have recovered, perhaps temporarily, while for others the prospect is one of inevitable decline, raising questions about when the point is reached where death is preferable to life. This poem expresses the ambiguity of visceral urges which could be towards either continued life or a relieving death.


Thin, thin, thin

My life is thin

No substance

No interest


But not ascetic

Pale, hungry


Thin, famished, thin

Restless eyes

Restless hands


Looking, but


No interest

Nothing engages

Thin, gaunt, thin

Teflon fingers

Teflon mind

All slips

Grasped briefly

Not cast aside

Just slips

Thin, fragile

Eggshell fragments





Poet’s statement: This poem anticipates the feelings generated by age and lingering illness – a sense of mental as well as physical wasting, and a gradual detachment from the world, becoming almost insubstantial. It is an attempt at empathy with my father during the months leading up to his death from pancreatic cancer, during which his physical changes were paralleled by the relinquishment of his plans, intentions and hopes.



MARK KING’s poetry has some overlap with his career, and some with his personal life. He has worked in road safety research and policy for three decades, in government and academia. While much of this work is detached from the everyday experiences of road crash victims, there are particularly poignant crashes and victims which confront with their immediacy and emotional content, suiting the media of poetry and prose rather than scientific writing. He also draws on the experiences of his wife (a medical anthropologist), and the personal experiences of family and friends who have been seriously ill – to explore the emotions, fears and resolutions which emerge in these situations.


Highlighted in Frontispiece Spring 2010 – Volume 2, Issue 2

Spring 2010  |  Sections  |  Poetry

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