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The narrator remembers a science fair she participated in as a child. The projects presented were diverse. One boy weighed mice before and after killing them in order to measure the weight of the soul. Another made an atom smasher. A girl made cookies from Euglena. The narrator rubs the tar of cigarettes into the shaved backs of mice in order to discover the tremulousness of life.
The narrator says she recalled the fair because the dusky seaside sparrow just became extinct, though its cells are frozen at Walt Disney in case it is ever learned how they may be cloned. She concludes by noting that the cookies won the prize.
Julie and Samantha have been best friends since they met in a dancing class at age nine. Now, at sixteen, they are closer than sisters, at home in each other's families, sharing everything, imagining their futures together
Julie, who has been feeling unusually fatigued and experiencing hip pain, finds, after several misdiagnoses, that she has diffuse histiocytic lymphoma, a type of cancer. She begins a course of aggressive chemotherapy and with it an inner journey that gradually distances her from family, friends, and in particular Sam--in ways none of them could have predicted.
Love is stretched for all of them beyond where it has had to reach before. There are periods of silence, odd pretenses, and conversations of unprecedented intimacy as Julie, her parents, and her best friend chart their bumpy course through shock and various tactics of accommodation to final acknowledgment that Julie is dying. Julie's own accelerated growth into an enlarged consciousness of the shape of her own life and destiny, and Sam's growth into a kind of emotional and psychological independence she'd never known before are the focus of this story, each girl narrating her own side of the story in alternating chapters.
Summary:Sometimes communication is best served when it doesn't communicate baldly and precisely. In this 12 line poem "a daughter comes in late / and you don't say exactly what you feel . . . ." You tell a patient "the x-ray showed / little change, knowing they won't ask / if the lesion's a little smaller or larger."
Summary:The patient lies in the hospital after having a stroke. The "word" is the patient's best friend, but suddenly it's become what "you can't say." "You lie flat / in the white yards of the clinic" unable to find the word. Like a dog, it "drags its chain over the emptied / bowl, barks," but the patient is unable to call it or command it. The stroke victim must simply wait and listen.
Dunn's poem describes the choreography of married couples after an argument. The narrative voice considers how silence is imposed, then broken and how two people eventually come together after an unpleasant exchange of words. There are, according to the speaker, unspoken rules and rituals. First, a long silence permeates: after all, "whoever spoke first would lose something." In this household drama there is meaning to the clanging of dishes, sleeping arrangements, and accidental touching.
Eventually, one or the other is careless, spontaneously and shamelessly breaking the Yalta-like stalemate with an observation about something ordinary such as a "cardinal on the bird seeder." An accidental comment secures a truce, bringing the couple together in sex, a "knot untying itself."
Summary:The Book of Mercy is a novel in which each member of a family tries to deal, in individually idiosyncratic ways, with his or her abandonment, as a family and as individuals, by their wife/mother.
Thirteen-year-old Sarah's mother, a lively, successful lawyer, discovers she has metastatic cancer. The story covers the months between her diagnosis and death. Sarah's dad is a minor character; there is little portrayal of his relationship with the mother, or with Sarah, except when he's announcing bad news. Sarah finds herself reacting in unexpected ways--feeling hateful, angry, detached, paralyzed, inclined to deny the whole thing.
The supporting character is Sarah's friend, Robin, whose mother has agoraphobia, never goes anywhere, knows few people, and rarely allows Robin to invite Sarah over. Sarah comes to understand this problem for the first time when her own mother's illness opens channels of communication between the girls.
The moment of the mother's death is described briefly but vividly: "Mom suddenly lifted both hands, pressed them hard against her forehead. She looked at me once, her eyes huge, and for an instant, it was as if she were pleading with me." The mystery of what her mother might have wanted in that final moment haunts Sarah--a reminder that death leaves questions with no answers. As the story ends, Sarah rereads a note from her mother which concludes, "'Don't let anybody tell you differently. What we're going through stinks. It just plain stinks." The novel ends with this emotional truth, making little attempt to soften it by speculation about afterlife.
Summary:This poem is a very natural, very private mother-daughter moment that celebrates the female body. A light-spirited let's-name-body-parts moment has emerged on the bed as "My daughter spreads her legs / to find her vagina." What follows is part spontaneous, light-spirited comparison between the daughter's body and her mother's ("She demands / to see mine"), and a reminder that this "is what a stranger cannot touch / without her yelling."
Summary:Agnes Higgins envies her husband Harold's ability to have brilliant and captivating dreams, nightly exotic dreams which he can recount to her in vivid detail. Agnes's dreams, when she has them, are ugly and frightening. Harold begins to coach Agnes in techniques for achieving perfect dreams. Agnes practices. She becomes progressively preoccupied with learning how to dream, but is unable to achieve a satisfying result. She becomes depressed, insomniac, and finally takes a fatal dose of sleeping pills. Harold finds Agnes "with her tranquil features set in a slight, secret smile of triumph . . . ."
Summary:Sometimes I'd spend the whole night coughing up / what I'd been breathing all day at work. With this beginning to a 20-line poem, the author presents the plain, straightforward suffering of a laborer with lungs damaged as a result of his job in a cotton mill. The doctor he consults simply advises that he get a different job, at which the speaker scoffs: "as if / a man who had no land or education / could find himself another way to live." His foreman more humanely transfers him to an outside position loading boxcars. But the damage has been done: "I'd still wake / gasping for air at least one time a night. / When I dreamed I dreamed of bumper crops / of Carolina cotton in my chest."