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This strong, powerful poem of grief for the death of an infant son in an intensive care unit is written by a poet who lost two of his five children. The rhythm of the poem is jazz, pulsing and pulsating, with well-controlled rests. Some words are run together: " . . . mamaborn, sweetsonchild / gonedowntown into researchtestingwarehousebatteryacid" which evokes (among other things) the frenzied atmosphere of a neonatal intensive care unit and the seemingly inevitable rush towards death.
Much of the poem deals with the distrust of the medical community, which is emphasized by the divide of race: the white doctors and nurses in white uniforms versus the African-American patient and family. The frustration of dependence on others is painful for the father during the nightmare of his baby’s dying. However, the poet reaches a higher level of understanding about his pain and grief; he acknowledges that the baby did receive all that medicine had to offer and he recognizes the complicated responsibilities one acquires by experiencing a loss.
Summary:For all the insomniacs in the world, the narrator says, "I want to build a new kind of machine / For flying out of the body at night." He recounts the images, anxieties, and responsibilities that accrue to those who lie in their beds at night, unable to sleep. He feels the weight of "this enormous night" on his shoulders, but he is unable to lift it alone. He needs help "to fly out of myself."
Summary:This is a poem about the doctor-poet's reluctance to view his own mother's X-ray. Addressing his mother, the doctor describes himself as less daring than Harvey and Freud and other "men who would open anything" to advance medical knowledge. In the poem's last line, as the doctor raises the film to the viewing screen, he resists, complaining "I still don't want to know."
Similar in theme to Hoagland's poem, Emigration (see this database), "Arrows" presents us with a series of images that convey what it is to be "a sick person." The poem is divided into three short sections, moving from the generic sick person waking up to face another day, to a first-person parody of Whitman's song of "the body electric" in which the speaker sings "the body like a burnt-out fuse box." Hoagland piles metaphor upon metaphor in a tour de force that evokes sickness. The concluding section, from which the poem takes its name, compares the sick person to a stoic martyred saint--"bristling with arrows"--who has "that ability to say, 'None of this is real' . . . ."
A fierce, powerful poem in which sexual and emotional intimacy between a couple reach their ultimate expression in the renewal of a promise "to kill each other", should one or the other become incapacitated. The narrator addresses her (his?) partner directly as "you"; so entwined are these two ("the halves of a single creature") that the reader isn’t certain whether the narrator is a man or a woman. The juxtaposition of the romantic restaurant setting, the deeply intimate thoughts, and the grim subject under discussion is striking: " . . . drinking Fume’ . . . we are taking on earth, we are part soil already . . . and always . . . we are also in our bed, fitted naked closely . . . ." One of the pair is afraid that the other won’t keep the promise, but "you don’t know me if you think I will not kill you."
The narrator, painlessly removing a splinter from his wife's hand, recalls the scene when he was a boy of seven and his father removed an "iron sliver" splinter from his palm. The father had skillfully distracted his son by telling a story in a voice reassuring and low: "a well / of dark water, a prayer."
Darker themes are alluded to--his father's hands were used not just to give love and protection, but also discipline. The narrator notes that as a boy he did not over-dramatize the scene. Rather, something precious was exchanged between father and son. In fact, it could have appeared to the onlooker that the father was "planting" (rather than removing) "a silver tear, a tiny flame" on his son's palm. The poem ends with the boy holding the removed splinter and kissing his father.
Poet Donald Hall writes of his vigil over wife Jane (poet Jane Kenyon), gravely ill with leukemia. To him, the hospital where he spends his days with her is a ship whose huge pounding engines keep the propellers turning so that the voyage to harbor can safely be made. The ship passengers "wore masks or cannulae . . . but I believed that the ship / travelled to a harbor / of breakfast, work, and love."
Hall writes about what he wrote at the time: " ’. . . bone marrow restored . . . I will take my wife . . . home to our dog and day.’ " After weeks of treatment, wife Jane is discharged, months pass, and now, at home, Hall re-reads his own words as he listens anxiously "to hear Jane call for help," and prepares to "make the agitated / drive to Emergency again," knowing that there is no safe harbor and that the ship is going nowhere, a " . . . huge / vessel that heaves water . . . / without leaving / port, . . . / without arrival or destination . . . . "
In the poem, persimmons are a symbol of several elements that have figured importantly in this Chinese narrator's life: they stand for painful memories of cultural barriers imposed by language and custom, and for a present-day loving connection to an elderly, blind father. The poet begins with a schoolboy incident in which he was punished for not knowing the difference between "persimmon" and "precision" and makes a play on other words which sound similar and "that got [him] into trouble." He takes revenge later, when the teacher brings to class a persimmon that only the narrator knows is unripe, as he "watched the . . . faces" without participating. Persimmons remind him of an adult sensual relationship with Donna, a Caucasian woman, and of his attempts to teach her Chinese words which he himself can no longer remember.
The second part of the poem describes the role persimmons have played in his father's life and in their relationship. To comfort his father, gone blind, the narrator gives him a sweet, ripe persimmon, so full and redolent with flavor that it will surely stimulate the senses remaining. Later yet again, the father and he "feel" a silk painting of persimmons, "painted blind / Some things never leave a person."
Summary:To the "people on the pavement," Richard Cory looked like he was on top of the world. The narrator of this 16 line poem (four a, b, a, b rhyming stanzas) tells how Cory was physically good-looking, well-dressed, humane, and very rich ("yes, richer than a king"). Yet "Richard Cory, one calm summer night, / Went home and put a bullet through his head."
Summary:Miniver Cheevy was a "child of scorn" who regretted his life in the real world. He loved to dream of the past, especially the glorious and romantic past. He loved abstractions, like Art and Romance, but "cursed the commonplace" of everyday life. He "scorned the gold he sought, / But sore annoyed was he without it . . . . " He couldn't DO anything in the world, so he "called it fate, / And kept on drinking."