Published on Academy of American Poets (

Winter Term XV, from Underworld Lit

Admittedly I may be blowing my <6 mm mole somewhat
out of proportion in the general scheme of things. At my
last follow-up, Dr. Song gently reminded me that we
entered the “catabasis” phase of my journey through
dermatological oncology some time ago. 

Cata-, from the ancient Greek κατά, or downward, prefixed
to the intransitive form of the verbal stem baínō, to go. It
means a trip to the coast, a military retreat, an endless
windstorm over the Antarctic plateau, or the sadness
experienced by some men at a certain point in their lives. 

In a clinical context, the term may also refer to the decline
or remission of a disease. So why do I still feel a ghostly
pinprick along the crease of my arm where the needle went
in before I went under? I suspect that I am not quite out of
the woods yet. Then again, maybe the woods have yet to
exit me.


Copyright © 2020 by Srikanth Reddy. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on May 6, 2020 by the Academy of American Poets.

About this Poem

“In the autumn of 2008, my wife happily told me that, after several months of trying to conceive a child, she was pregnant. Three days later, I received a call from the university health services informing me that I’d been diagnosed with cancer. Life and death sometimes converge in the most unsettling manner. This excerpt from my forthcoming book, Underworld Lit, narrates the bewilderment of finding oneself lost in the middle of life—as I was at that time—and the uncertain passage from the realms of the dead toward somewhere like home.”
Srikanth Reddy


Srikanth Reddy

Srikanth Reddy is the author of Conversities (1913 Press, 2012), with Dan Beachy-Quick; Voyager (University of California Press, 2011); and Facts for Visitors (University of California Press, 2004). The recipient of a fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts, he teaches at the University of Chicago.

Date Published: 2020-05-06

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