Showing 1 - 3 of 3 annotations associated with Shapiro, Alan
- Coulehan, Jack
In this collection of poems, Alan Shapiro looks unflinchingly at his brother David’s illness and death from brain cancer in 1998. David was an actor and a "song and dance" man on Broadway, hence the title and the frequent allusion to songs and show business. The poems trace an arc from the two boys’ childhood, when they dance together lip-syncing to Ethel Merman’s "There’s No Business Like Show Business" ("Everything the Traffic Will Allow," p. 1) through the diagnosis of brain tumor ("Sleet," p. 8) to the poet’s "Last Impressions" after his brother’s death (p. 57).
The everyday, ordinary world bursts its seams as the poet sits in a radiology waiting room waiting for his brother to return from his "Scan" (p. 10) The poet tries to watch a basketball game on TV, but "soon as my brother’s name / was called" a woman sitting next to him begins to tell the story of her husband, who has turned into "a well trained zombie." Soon his brother David moves toward zombie-hood as well. In "The Phone Call" (p. 23), he listens to "the mangled speech, aphasic / pratfalls halfway through the / sentences . . . " that tells him "you can’t imagine it at all."
But brain damage doesn’t mean the loss of wisdom. In "The Last Scene" (p. 33) the poet sits beside his dying brother, who bestirs himself from somnolence to ask, "Do you think / you have a / problem?" "Look at yourself," he says, "how you sit here / drinking all alone."
David dies without missing a beat, according to the script, but his brother loses his place in the text; he simply doesn’t know his lines. In the beautiful "Broadway Revival" (p. 43), he concludes, "I play / the brother / who doesn’t know his lines, / and you the actor / who waits there in the wings, / who holds the script, / who knows it all / by heart and / will not say."
- Bertman, Sandra
This collection of 36 poems, some of which have been published individually in various literary magazines, is primarily about dead--or nearly dead--family members: a brother and sister lost to cancer; the speaker's palsied, nearly blind father dying of Parkinson's disease; his mother's struggle with chronic arthritis and heart disease.
The collection is divided into three untitled sections. The first deals primarily with the aging and death of the speaker's parents; the second with a wider range of abandonment and death, lost loves, dreams, innocence; the third almost exclusively with his sister's six year struggle with breast cancer and dying.
- Shafer, Audrey
Alan Shapiro, poet and professor of English at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, chronicles the life and death of his sister, Beth, who died of breast cancer at the age of 49. Beth lived the last four weeks of her life at a hospice in Texas--this memoir traces those weeks in particular and refracts them against decades of family dynamics, turmoil and triumph. The memoir is composed of 14 tersely named chapters ("The Death," "The Joke") followed by "Afterwords": six poems about Beth.
Alan is the youngest of 3 siblings; Beth was the oldest and David, an actor is the middle child. Despite, or perhaps because of their age difference, Beth and Alan were very close. It was he whom she asked to write her eulogy and it was he who stayed the entire 4 weeks of hospice, save for a brief trip home. From Alan's love and devotion grows an admiration for Beth's integrity in life and death.
Beth married an African-American man, fought for liberal causes, and suffered complete estrangement from her parents due to her choices. Her husband, Russ, must deal not only with the loss of his wife and their daughter's loss of her mother, but also with the prejudice of the Shapiro parents and the medical establishment. At one point Shapiro describes how, whenever he accompanied his sister and her husband to the doctor's office, Alan, not Russ, was treated as the spouse and decision-maker.
Shapiro vividly depicts the poignancy of parent-child relationships. Gabbi, the seven-year-old daughter who loves horses, gallops through the house with grace and abandon not possible at the hospice. Alan's anger at his father's actions and his forgiveness of his mother's accomplice role are also strongly demonstrated. A great strength of this book is the choice of detail: the mother completes a book of crossword puzzles during the vigil; the brother becomes infatuated with a particular joke he wants to memorize; nurses leave a solitary rose on the bed of the newly dead at the hospice.
Shapiro is keenly interested in being with his sister right at the moment of her death. He describes the end: "one long, deep, and profoundly eerie moan . . . That moan, I'm certain, marked the end of Beth, the end of life, though the body went on breathing for another minute or so, each breath a little fainter, weaker, the body's electricity guttering down, dissolving, till there was no breath at all." (pp. 111-2)
He also analyzes whether this was "a good death." There had been many gifts: Beth's recognition of her importance, her reconciliation with her father, and her acceptance of her mother's devotion. However, Shapiro also keeps the reader cognizant of Beth's suffering and the now motherless child, the spouseless husband and the myriad other ways that Beth's death marked a void.