Diabetes: “Sugar” by James Dickey

One night I thirsted like a prince
Then like a king
Then like an empire like a world
On fire. I rose and flowed away and fell
Once more to sleep. In an hour I was back
In the kingdom staggering, my belly going round with self-
Made night-water, wondering what
The hell. Months of having a tongue
Of flame convinced me: I had better not go
On this way. The doctor was young

And nice. He said, I must tell you,
My friend, that it is needless moderation
And exercise. You don’t want to look forward
To gangrene and kidney

Failure boils blindness infection skin trouble falling
Teeth coma and death


In sleep my mouth went dry
With my answer and in it burned the sands
Of time with new fury. Sleep could give me no water
But my own. Gangrene in white
Was in my wife’s hand at breakfast
Heaped like a mountain. Moderation, moderation,

My friend, and exercise. Each time the barbell
Rose each time a foot fell
Jogging, it counted itself
One death two death three death and resurrection
For a little while. Not bad! I always knew it would have to be
somewhere around

The house: the real
Symbol of Time I could eat
And live with, coming true when I opened my mouth:
True in the coffee and the child’s birthday
Cake helping sickness be fire-
tongued, sleepless and water-
logged but not bad, sweet sand
Of time, my friend, an everyday –
A livable death at least.

  1. How might this poem allow you to better understand a diabetic patient non-compliant with treatment?
  2. What role does medicine/the doctor play in the narrator’s changing understanding of self?

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