Showing 31 - 40 of 64 annotations contributed by Davis, Cortney

Annotated by:
Davis, Cortney

Primary Category: Literature / Poetry

Genre: Poetry and Art

Summary:

David Rosen and Joel Weishaus are long-time friends, the former a psychiatrist, the latter a poet, teacher, and literary critic. Both authors have lived and traveled in Japan, and both are enamored of the haiku form. In this book, Rosen and Weishaus carry on the "renga" tradition of writing haiku as part of an on-going conversation, a call and response of commentary and haiku. Grouped into 53 two-page chapters, such as "Feeling Death," "Learning to Bow," "Eating," "Mother Ill, Mother Dead," "Tuscany," and "Turtle Wisdom," this conversation is enriched by the black and white illustrations of Arthur Okamura.

The comments and haiku range widely and deeply, reflecting the authors’ recognition of the possibility and need for healing, not only in human relationships but also with Nature. In part, this conversation is the authors’ quest to understand the "psychology, meaning, and healing value" of haiku (1), and to explore how poems might lead not necessarily to cure but to "becoming whole" (5).

The commentaries are open and transparent, interwoven as one poet picks up a word or image in his friend’s haiku and extends it, turning it over both in commentary and verse-for example, see the chapter "In the Flow" where the last line of Rosen’s haiku, "A river streaming back toward the sun," is used as the first line of Weishaus’s responsive commentary, one that transports the discussion from Japan to Africa (82-83). Often movingly honest, the poets discuss loneliness and death, their insights reflected in artist Okamura’s stark ink swirls (8-15). They examine their relationships with their fathers ("making Peace with One’s Father," 44-45), and they don’t shrink from humor ("Learning to bow," 34-35) or from sensuality ("Anima," 86-87). Their spiritual references range widely, from the Hebrew God to the Buddhist’s tribute to Nature (70-71).

The haiku are lovely, both strong and delicate, our appreciation of them enhanced by a review of haiku’s traditions in the Preface (1-5). Rather than try to describe the haiku (because, like all good haiku, these cannot be captured or retold and remain the same), I’ll present one haiku from each poet and hope readers will be compelled to seek out the book and read further.

David Rosen, on walking near his apartment in Mukaijima (40): Shimmering paddy-- / The slap of small feet nearing / Where dragonflies hover. Joel Weishaus, on September 11, 2002 (103): Sluggish creek-- / A shadow dips / And drinks.

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Annotated by:
Davis, Cortney

Primary Category: Visual Arts / Painting/Drawing

Genre: Art with Commentary

Summary:

According to the author's introduction, the most "beautiful and informative images of nursing are found on picture postcards" (xi). He has gathered over 580 full--color postcard images of nursing from 65 nations, documenting nurses' work in peace and war time and documenting, often in breathtakingly lovely images, an important part of nursing's history. Postcards from the years 1893 to 2002 (many of these from the "golden age of postcards," 1907 through World War I) follow nurses from factories to flu wards, from battlefields to mission welfare clinics.

The author has divided his book into seven chapters: "Symbols of Care," "Twentieth--Century Postcard Art," "As Advertised: The Nurse on the Advertising Postcard," "Portraits," "War!" "An American Photo Postcard Album," and "Parade of Nations." Each chapter begins with an intelligent, fascinating explanatory essay by the author, and each chapter ends with copious notes revealing the origins and stories behind the postcards. The book has an extensive bibliography and is well indexed.

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Medicine Stone

Coulehan, Jack

Last Updated: Aug-31-2006
Annotated by:
Davis, Cortney

Primary Category: Literature / Poetry

Genre: Collection (Poems)

Summary:

Jack Coulehan’s fourth poetry collection brings together new and previously published poems in a well-organized and handsome volume. As a reader who has long followed this author’s career, I found some of my favorite poems here (Irene, "Lima Beans," "For Oysters Only," "Six Prescriptions," "Sir William Osler Remembers His Call on Walt Whitman," "Cholera," and Medicine Stone) as well as compelling newer work: "The Shoe," "Work Rounds: On Lines by Tomas Transtromer," "Definitions," and "Decatur in Winter."

The collection is divided into three sections: the first presents poems about "doctoring" and, a Coulehan trademark, poems from a patient’s point of view; the second is a remarkable assembly of Coulehan’s poetic commentaries on Chekhov’s life and writing; the third features poems about a variety of personal relationships.

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Mom's Cancer

Fies, Brian

Last Updated: Aug-24-2006
Annotated by:
Davis, Cortney

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Graphic Memoir

Summary:

This extraordinary graphic work began its life as a Web comic, posted anonymously, tracing in image and word the story of a son, his sisters and their mother who was diagnosed with a brain tumor, metastatic from her lung.  This comic caught on, and news of it was passed by email and link from reader to reader. About a year later, the author, Brian Fies, was presented the Eisner Award for Best Digital Comic. The entire sequence has now been published in a small, wonderful hardback book that will fit into a lab coat pocket.
 
Fies has managed to capture, in word and graphic panels, the thousand emotions and moments that swirl about a family when cancer changes their lives. He shows us the small, personal gestures and thoughts that we look back upon--how he "didn't lose any sleep" (3) when his mom first fell ill; how his mother both denied the severity of her illness and, at the same time, fell into the abyss of medical examination, radiation, chemotherapy; how he and his sisters assumed various roles in their mother's care and, soon, morphed into "superpowers," each defending his or her own territory (41-44).

Most amazing is how Fies exposes, in honest and poignant visuals, the many points of view of illness--his mother's, his siblings', his own, even the physicians'. His portrayal of how the medical system both confuses, abandons and supports his mother is alone worth the price of the book (39-40). We watch his mother, through his "cartoons," as she moves deeper and deeper into the world of illness, and we see the author's own anger in response to this loss.

He lashes out at smokers (pp 55-56), perfectly portrays the ever-smiling doctor (48-49), captures the odd suspension of a transient ischemic attack (TIA) (68-70), and lets us walk the tightrope of treatment alongside his mother (59-61). He also cleverly interweaves the back-story of his mother's youth, marriage and divorce, his childhood, and a vignette of the sickness and death of a favorite uncle, one whose dying prophesy impacted Fies's life (73-77). The moment when his mother truly understands the severity of her prognosis (94) is stunning.

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Mercury

Montgomery, Judith

Last Updated: Aug-23-2006
Annotated by:
Davis, Cortney

Primary Category: Literature / Poetry

Genre: Poem

Summary:

"Mercury" is a 41-line, free-verse poem divided into three stanzas. Although the narrative is filled with highly personal images, the poem's story is told from a third person point of view which serves to universalize the poem's theme: the often mechanical struggle of a couple to achieve pregnancy, and the fragility and innate sadness of that struggle.

In the first stanza, the poet sets the scene--a couple who rely on the daily reading of the thermometer that "measures their mornings / against a brimming point" (p. 44). When the thermometer indicates that "seed / and egg might meet and link" (p. 44) the man and woman have intercourse, but all sensuality has been "banished, by this elusive / goal: the child they lack" (44).

The second stanza, which is the briefest, gives us the likewise brief coupling of this man and woman, a stanza devoid--like the compulsive act--of spontaneous love or passion. A calculated sex-cry--"Baby, / Baby"--seems to be a cry both of their present desire and of their memory of a once--passionate relationship (44). The final lines leave the woman lying rigidly in the position her doctor has prescribed.

The final stanza brings a surprise. Suddenly there is the "crack" of a bird hitting their sliding glass door--"a spray of feathers splays / it's fist on glass" (p.44). Forgetting for now the need to lie still, to enhance her own chance for pregnancy, the woman rushes to the door, remembering the house finches that have nested in their yard--a gestation perhaps at first more successful than hers. "Seed seeping / down her thighs, the woman gathers / feather by feather / the splattered down, / cupping fragments tight inside / her empty fist" (45). The bird's death, in the midst of the promise of parenthood, parallels the nothingness inside the woman's fist, the perfect metaphor (as the non--gravid uterus is the size of a woman's clenched hand) for the emptiness of her womb.

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Annotated by:
Davis, Cortney

Primary Category: Literature / Poetry

Genre: Anthology (Poems)

Summary:

This extraordinary anthology of 65 poems examines the relationship of parents to their grown children from the parents’ point of view. The poets are well known (among these, Grace Paley, Ruth Stone, Kumin, Maxine , Marilyn Hacker, Alicia Suskin Ostriker, Linda Pastan), and lesser known, female and male ( Dick Allen, Raymond Carver, Hayden Carruth, and Robert Creeley), but all poems deal head on with situations that often confront parents.

Situations examined are: the addiction of grown children ("To My Daughter"), their illnesses ("Pittsburgh," "Anorexia"), their own visible aging ("The Ways of Our Daughters"), the frustration of poor communication ("Lowater Bridge," "Harmonies for the Alienation of My Daughter," "Listen," "Potentially Fatal Toes," "Letter to a Son I Once Knew"), the way parents aren’t really the people their children think they are ("The Children"), and the joy when, even for a moment, love and safety reign ("Time, Place, and Parenthood," "Visual Ritual").

In these poems parents stand at the doorway and watch their children caring for their own children ("Sometimes," "Practicing") and they invoke family histories ("The Blessing," "Girl Children," "On an Old Photograph of My Son"). They dread the ringing of the phone ("Hours After Her Phone Call," "Long Distance Call from the Alone & Lonely") and they worry over children’s marriages, physical pains, and the disasters in their lives that parents cannot fix but feel they might have caused ("What I Need to Tell You," ""Letter: Thursday, 16 September," "Love is Not Love").

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The Blood of Strangers

Huyler, Frank

Last Updated: Jun-21-2006
Annotated by:
Davis, Cortney

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Collection (Short Stories)

Summary:

In 28 autobiographical stories, the narrator writes of his patient encounters (and self encounters) as a medical student, resident, and finally Emergency Room attending physician. "The Unknown Assailant" opens the collection, a tale of a criminal and his victim who are both brought into the doctor-narrator's emergency room. The young doctor chooses "the young one" (p. 1), not knowing he is the assailant, and works frantically to save his life. This criminal allegedly killed two men a year before, but his current victim lives and the doctor learns the story of the attack from this victim's point of view. The assailant, who slowly recovers, has "an aura about him" (p. 5) and the doctor is strangely drawn to him, thankful that this man means him no harm. Perhaps aware of the irony of healing a man who, in another environment, might kill him, the doctor helps the assailant get better.

This underlying theme--that nothing is black and white in medicine or life--shapes every story. "Prelude," is the revealing, three-page tale of a medical student's life outside the hospital juxtaposed with his first encounter with death in the anatomy lab.

Every story deals with significant issues: the physician's inner emptiness when a patient dies ("Through the Dark, Softly"), how a greater power might suddenly intervene ("Faith"), how narrow the margin is between a successful and a missed diagnosis ("Sugar"), how both patients and residents survive because of, or in spite of, their medical attendings ("A Difference of Opinion"), and how things that seem final or sinister--like death and leeches--become instruments of hope and cure ("The Dead Lake"). [Sugar and The Dead Lake have been annotated in this database.)

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Prayer to a Purple God

Studer, Constance

Last Updated: Jan-31-2005
Annotated by:
Davis, Cortney

Primary Category: Literature / Poetry

Genre: Collection (Poems)

Summary:

The author of this bold collection is a registered nurse who relates, through her poems, patient and caregiver experiences culled from her own years of working in Intensive Care-Coronary Care. There are 24 poems here, most running two to three pages and most written in short lines, a point of craft that adds to their power. There is not one moment of easy sentimentality in these poems. Instead, the author plunges into the grittier side of nursing and illness--and yet, in aggregate, these poems celebrate the embodied and holy work of healing.

In the opening poem, "The-Trickle-Down-Theory-Of-Health," Adam, in the Garden of Eden, is surprised by "The knife" that "separates his ribs." By poem's end, we see health slip "like a ring / from earth's finger" (2), and with this simile we are introduced to the book's underlying metaphor and also to the poet's technique: dense and sometimes near-extreme imagery that ranges, in this poem alone, from encyclopedias to acid rain to barefoot children to librarians to a patient in the dark, "her arteries and shelves / of bone in a ruby gloom" (2). This accumulation of unrelenting, unusual images recreates the world of a patient's pain and suffering and the fierce determination and occasional despair of a caregiver.

"Coma" is written from a comatose woman's point of view, and yet we also see her from the nurse's vantage. In a lovely and surprising twist, the coma becomes, for the patient, a sort of liberation as "Slowly she sloughs, / cell by cell, / the old thorn" (15). This patient is not Sleeping Beauty, who in some fairy tale might be wakened by a kiss. "On the Fireline" becomes a wonderful metaphor for the daily confrontation of illness, for the way the nurse, returning daily to tend her patients, also "coalesces into fire" (16).

The 5-page poem "Intensive Care" perfectly renders the physical sense of being alternately caregiver, patient, and family member within the rarified atmosphere of the ICU (24-28). A patient's blood "pulls against/ the moon, his breath / this tide going out" (26) and, as she comforts a waiting family member, a nurse's eyes "beyond clarity, / unfold a silken language / all their own" (28).

Other not-to-be-missed poems are "The Holy O" (36), "Prayer to a Purple God" (38), "Pieta" (44), "A Riot of Flowers" (52), "What the Body Remembers" (57), and one of my very favorites, "Anesthesia" (59). In "Anesthesia" the caregiver lets an anesthetized patient float like "an embryo / tethered on the end of IV tubing, / floated like an astronaut / in cold stratosphere, / a naked thing / alone / in the universe" (60). But since these poems are finally loving, involved, experienced and hopeful, the patient is told to hush; he is watched over; he is protected. When danger is past, he is reclaimed: "She will hold you / within white-curved wings. / She will reel you back in / when you are healed" (60).

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Annotated by:
Davis, Cortney

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Criticism

Summary:

Physician and poet Rafael Campo sometimes gives poems to his patients, tucking them in with educational materials and prescriptions. He knows that poetry can be therapeutic for both patient and caregiver, and in this beautifully organized and executed book he tells readers why and how poetry can enhance healing.

The chapters (in which Campo ponders questions such as: Is poetry necessary for survival? How does poetry locate us inside the experience of illness? Why is poetry therapeutic?) follow the arc of illness itself. In Chapter 4, "Inklings," Campo discusses how not-yet-diagnosed symptoms of sickness may be revealed in poetry, the patient "divining" signs of illness "from the clues discernible in a sentient relationship to the world around us" (p. 52).

In following chapters ("Diagnosis," "Treatment," "Side Effects," and "End of Life"), he expertly unfolds, through brilliant poem analysis, how "At every station of the disease experience, poetry has suggested an ulterior discourse that, as it accumulates, forms a composite picture of a humane idea of wellness" (p. 127). In other chapters ("Daniel," "Clara," "Sunny," "Eduardo," and "Mrs. Twomey") he discusses how poetry has changed and informed his clinical and personal interactions with patients.

Fully aware that poetry is not a "cure" for illness and that relationships between patients and caregivers are not always ideally sympathetic, Campo demonstrates how, nonetheless, poetry can be a valid healing modality. In the "Afterword," he urges readers to imagine poetry "as a metaphor itself for the process of healing" and "to experience it through the stories and voices of real people who have themselves called upon it as they faced illness" (p. 188), and he states his wish to see "non-poet physicians use this book with their own patients and medical trainees" (p. 190). An excellent "Further Reading" appendix provides wide-ranging selections for further study.

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Pity My Simplicity

Darby, Ann

Last Updated: Nov-12-2004
Annotated by:
Davis, Cortney

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Short Story

Summary:

In the beginning of Ann Darby's lovely and enigmatic short story, "Pity My Simplicity," Dr. Peary, whose medical degree came from "The Franklin School of Eclectic Medicine and Surgery" (3), is trying to deliver Orla Hay's sixth baby, a breech presentation. The doctor is weary and perhaps under-trained, but he is vigilant. Orla's sister asks if she might take over trying to tug out the baby. When the doctor glances at the sister's hands--"Fever-breeders, he's sure, and he won't be blamed for fever"--he says no, he'll manage (4). He does manage, and when the child is "wailing a syncopated, newborn wail" the doctor is undone (5). He weeps, hoping his tears will be mistaken for sweat.

In prose that is atmospheric and evocative, Darby brings us into scene after scene as Dr. Peary's evening unfolds: the delivery, then home to his child and his wife, who tells him, only after he eats his dinner, that Alma Pine down the road "isn't 'faring' well" (8). Just as Orla and her sister expected the doctor to save the baby, both Alma Pine's husband John and Dr. Peary's wife expect him to figure out what's wrong with Alma. "And you waited to tell me?" Peary asks his wife (9).

In the final and longest scene in the story, Peary hurries to attend to Alma, a woman dying of tetanus. About to enter her room, Peary laments that he's never grown "callous to this moment," the second when he enters the lives of his patients (12). He walks in to find Alma writhing in her bed and her husband glowering nearby. "Quiet! Look what you've done," the husband accuses (12). The doctor nods, accepting guilt.

Later, he thinks, he will write in her chart words that describe her state but cannot cure. At the story's end, he gives Alma "the morphia, the one centigramme dose he always carries with him" (14). As he gives Alma this dose, he never looks at her husband, "which is fine because John Pine cannot bear to look at him" (14).

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