Showing 1 - 10 of 606 annotations contributed by Coulehan, Jack

Diabetes

Dickey, James

Last Updated: Feb-01-2017
Annotated by:
Coulehan, Jack

Primary Category: Literature / Poetry

Genre: Poetry

Summary:

In the first part of this poem ("Sugar"), Dickey gives a wonderful series of images of diabetic symptoms: "I thirsted like a prince," "my belly going round with self- / made night-water," "having a tongue / of flame . . . . " The doctor preaches insulin and moderation. The poet tries to comply. He seems to accept this new life, "A livable death at last."In the poem's second part ("Under Buzzards"), the poet and his "companion" climb to a point on Hogback Ridge where they see buzzards circling. Seeing the birds of death, he reflects on his life and illness. Is all this medicine and moderation worthwhile? What will they accomplish? Regarding the body, the poet writes, "For its medical books is not / Everything: everything is how / Much glory is in it . . . . " In the end he takes "a long drink of beer."

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Not God: A Play in Verse

Straus, Marc

Last Updated: Oct-06-2015
Annotated by:
Coulehan, Jack

Primary Category: Literature / Poetry

Genre: Poetry

Summary:

Not God is a "play in verse" with two characters, a hospitalized patient and the patient's doctor. The scare quotes indicate the fluid quality of Not God, which the author originally conceived as a sequence of poems spoken in a patient's voice. Subsequently, he added the doctor poems (monologues) to create a "dialog" between the two voices. Once again, scare quotes suggest the atypical quality of this dialogue, since the two characters express different feelings and perspectives on the situation, but do not directly address one another. The play version has received several performances at colleges and small theaters.The patient speaks first in a monologue that begins "A man's cough bounces down the hallway / like pick up sticks... " and ends with "I am here two weeks." (p. 7) It soon becomes evident that he/she has cancer and is receiving chemotherapy. The doctor has changed this person's life by speaking "one word," after which "nothing / would ever be the same again." (p. 10). The patient is knowledgeable, accepting of his/her condition, a keen observer with a good sense of humor, as in "Doldrums" (p. 19) and "Cricket" (p. 23), and a person who affirms life in spite of adversity. The doctor is burdened with the power of medical knowledge. In particular, he understands the deadly meaning of signs and symptoms: "We say / excess water and swelling of the belly, knowing / full well... / an ovarian cancer is almost certain." (p. 33) But the meaning this represents is chaos: there is nothing humane or transcendent about cancer. Unlike his baseball card collection in childhood ("Shoebox," p. 35), cancer is neither confined nor orderly. In the second act, the patient sympathizes with the doctor whose "head is so cluttered / with obligatory data." Paradoxically, the doctor must be protected because he is "filled with dying." (p. 41) The doctor becomes angry with the burden, "Why / ask me a question that only God can answer?" (p. 49) and cries out that his work is "alchemy, / potions and witches' brews." (p. 54) In the end, while dying, the patient imagines "a bridge that can cross / the Atlantic." (p. 68), while the doctor speaks a prayer, "The word cure, dear God, is always / near my lips, though I have been constrained from / saying it aloud." (p. 66)

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One Word

Straus, Marc

Last Updated: Oct-06-2015
Annotated by:
Coulehan, Jack

Primary Category: Literature / Poetry

Genre: Poetry

Summary:

In this collection (80 pages), Marc Straus speaks of the inadequacy of communication and knowledge in medicine; the pauses, the distance, the hesitations. You think you know what you are doing, "But no, they always ask the question / I never knew." ("The Log of Pi") "The question / might be so simple, so clear / that you’re unprepared to answer." ("Questions and Answers") Though words are in one way inadequate, the medical word carries great power: " . . . I knew that moment / I would say one word for her and nothing / would ever be the same again." (One Word, annotated in this database.)The poet comes to understand that he represents both sides of medicine, both the detached and distant Dr. Gold, and the warm and trustworthy Dr. Green. (See annotation of Dr. Gold & Dr. Green) Unfortunately, this knowledge only comes about after the patient has died ("Dr. Gold & Dr. Green, II"). We learn from experience, sometimes too late.

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One Word

Straus, Marc

Last Updated: Oct-06-2015
Annotated by:
Coulehan, Jack

Primary Category: Literature / Poetry

Genre: Poetry

Summary:

The speaker reflects that "life is sometimes reduced / to a single word . . . . " He remembers one incident at a bus stop, another interviewing a man "for a job in my lab." Then there was the time a woman "walked / into my office for one thing . . . . " He discovered a "fullness" in her neck and knew that the word he would say to her, the one word, would change her life: "nothing / would ever be the same again."

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Sleep Talker

Shafer, Audrey

Last Updated: Oct-06-2015
Annotated by:
Coulehan, Jack

Primary Category: Literature / Poetry

Genre: Poetry

Summary:

This fine collection of work by Audrey Shafer is subtitled "Poems by a Doctor/Mother." The book begins with a section containing poems of personal history and experience ("that I call home"), descends into the nether world of anesthesia ("not quite sleep"), and in the final section returns to the light with a new perspective on the texture and occurrences of ordinary life ("okay for re-entry").Among the more medically oriented poems, see especially "Spring," "Anesthesia," "Three Mothers," Monday Morning (see annotation in this database), "Gurney Tears," "Center Stage," and "Reading Leaves." "Don’t Start, Friend" takes up the topic of substance abuse among anesthesiologists (or physicians, in general).

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Technology and Medicine

Campo, Rafael

Last Updated: Oct-06-2015
Annotated by:
Coulehan, Jack

Primary Category: Literature / Poetry

Genre: Poetry

Summary:

A short (13 line) poem in which the poet-as-doctor describes his "transformation" from flesh-and-blood person into a machine in which "My hands are hypodermic needles, touch / Turned into blood . . . ." This doctoring-machine desires "a kind of intimacy / That won't bear pondering." For example, his mouth turns into "a dry computer chip" that cannot touch or feel or even say consoling words.

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Annotated by:
Coulehan, Jack

Primary Category: Literature / Poetry

Genre: Poetry

Summary:

The subtitle of this collection is "A Voyage to the New World." In the first section, Campo begins his voyage to a new world of self-understanding by experimenting with the language of family, intimacy, healing, and magic. In "I Don’t Know What I Can’t Say, or, Genet on Keats," the poet writes: "There are two sides to life. The side where life / Remains unconsummated, reticent" and the other, which is "the act itself laid bare--a hand / Inside the lion’s mouth . . . . " Campo chooses the latter.In the next section, his voyage takes him through several connected series of 16-line sonnets; each of these series plumbs the depths of a different intimate relationship: Song for My Grandfather, for My Father, for My Lover, and for Our Son. Some of Campo’s finest poems are in this section, including (just a handful from the many) "Grandfather’s Will," "Anatomy Lesson," "Planning a Family," "My Father’s View of Poetry," "Translation," and "Political Poem."In the final section, Campo brings the insight of a seasoned voyager to his day-to-day life experience as a gay Latino physician: "To teach me my own life, to share my grief." ("Planning a Family," p. 49)

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The Distant Moon

Campo, Rafael

Last Updated: Oct-06-2015
Annotated by:
Coulehan, Jack

Primary Category: Literature / Poetry

Genre: Poetry

Summary:

A four-part poem that begins with glimpses of a man suffering the ravages of AIDS: "He stayed / Four months. He lost his sight to CMV." The man connects with his doctor through the stories he tells, but also through blood: "I'm drowning in his blood . . . . "The doctor at first tries to maintain distance from his patient ("I can't identify with him.") and even feels "residual guilts" when the patient says it's okay that "doctors could be queer." In the end, though, the healer has formed a bond with his patient. After the man dies, the doctor further identifies with him: "His breath, / I dreamed, had filled my lungs--his lips, my lips / Had touched."

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The Origin of Music

Abse, Dannie

Last Updated: Oct-06-2015
Annotated by:
Coulehan, Jack

Primary Category: Literature / Poetry

Genre: Poetry

Summary:

The speaker has taken "two small femurs of a baby" from the Pathology Laboratory. He keeps them in his pockets. Whenever someone tells him a tale of grief ("woeful, intimate news"), the speaker takes the femurs from his pockets "and play[s] them like castanets."

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Towards Curing AIDS

Campo, Rafael

Last Updated: Oct-05-2015
Annotated by:
Coulehan, Jack

Primary Category: Literature / Poetry

Genre: Poetry

Summary:

A patient is dying of AIDS. The physician-speaker repositions a drain in the patient's wound, taking care "to slap on latex gloves" before he does so. Another physician, "a hypocrite / Across the room complains that it's her right / To walk away . . . ." She acknowledges no obligation as a physician to care for this patient. Does she think it is too risky? What kind of risk? Might contact with this dying man somehow upset her ordered world and expose her vulnerability? Of course, nothing she could do "Could save him now." Even the physician-speaker must leave the patient "pleading" and continue with his other work: "There's too much to do."

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