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White-jacket is a sailor on the U.S. frigate Neversink. His nickname derives from a jacket stitched together from leftover scraps of rags. This jacket makes the other sailors superstitious and as the ship heads towards Antarctica his mess group kicks him out and he joins another group, serving under the much-liked petty officer, Jack Chase.
The journey is a dangerous one. A man falls overboard. There are constant floggings for the merest inkling of insurrection. All the crew members are forced to watch each flogging. A doctor stands by to stop the flogging if the victim's life is endangered, but he is so callous he doesn't stop a single one. The doctor also prescribes medications, but never attempts to change the conditions that cause the sailors' illnesses, like malnutrition and exposure.
When the ship lands in Rio de Janeiro, Dr. Cadwaller Cuticle boards. In order to show off to the ship's doctors, he amputates the healthy leg of a sailor, who is terribly frightened as the doctors discuss his impending fate in front of him. The man dies of shock. When the boat continues on its journey, White-jacket accidentally falls from the riggings. He barely escapes being speared when a ship-mate mistakes his jacket for a whale. He is fished out and sent up again to complete his task.
Summary:Old Koskoosh was the chief of an Eskimo tribe. Now he is blind and lame, and his tribe is preparing to leave him alone in the snow to face his death as they travel on without him. His son leaves him a pile of sticks to feed the fire beside him. When the fire dies, so will he. As he waits alone for death, he thinks of the time he left his own father in the snow. He also remembers having seen a sick, old moose killed by wolves when it straggled behind the rest of the herd. "It was the law of all life," he decides. When he feels the cold nose of a wolf on him and hears the pack's footsteps surround him, he first fights them off, then gives in.
It is the year 2073. A boy and his grandfather, clad in animal skins, are walking through deep woods. Having fought off a bear, they come to a fire on the beach, where several other boys sit watching their sheep. Their grandfather asks for a crab and they tease him with empty shells until he cries. Finally, they relent and ask him to tell his story about the past and the scarlet plague.
The grandfather had been a literature professor at The University of California-San Francisco. In the summer of 2013, rumors began that a new plague was killing people in New York. Those infected developed a scarlet rash, had a few convulsions, then settled into a sleep-like state in which they became numb and died, their bodies decomposing almost immediately. The entire process took at most an hour, but sometimes as little as ten minutes. Bacteriologists died even as they tried to find a vaccine. People began dying by the millions. The plague finally reached San Francisco and mayhem broke out. The wealthy tried to flee the city and the poor murdered them and looted in revenge for their long oppression.
The professor survived. He lived alone in the Grand Canyon for three years, then set out to see if anyone else was alive, finding a workingman and his woman slave. He met others and began a family which included the boys to whom he is telling his story. There is no means of communicating across the country or to other nations, since the fires set by looters consumed nearly every structure. Society has been set back to a nomad existence. The boys do not believe most of their grandfather’s story. They fight amongst one another and with him in a language that is only partly English. Finally, they rise, leaving the grandfather to straggle along behind into the wilderness.
Summary:The narrator lies in a hospital room, across the hall from the entrance to the Intensive Care Unit. He imagines what goes on beyond that door--"beep-machines, a blur / of women and men in white frocks." He wishes that he had a better, less frightening view of the world. Staring at the door, however, he sends his wish to the Intensive Care patients "that your lives be again and again / limned by dawn."
Summary:Tod Friendly awakens from death, rejuvenates, and becomes a surgeon. In New York he becomes John Young. He travels to Lisbon and a privileged existence as Hamilton de Souza. He leaves Lisbon for Salerno, then Rome. As Odilo Unverdorben he travels north to Auschwitz Central where he resumes his surgical career and conducts research. Through this time he has a series of affairs until he joins his wife. Their daughter dies, they marry, then court. Odilo works as a doctor, then attends medical school. He joins a youth organization and lives with Father and Mother. Finally, he enters Mother.
Summary:In Montaigne's final essay he expounds upon the results of his long search for self knowledge via life experience. He uses disease, health, medicine and doctors as prime arenas for demonstration of what he has learned from living. On physicians: to be a "right" physician, one must have experienced every illness, accident or mishap one seeks to treat. On going to stool: to have a right bowel movement, one must have peace, quiet, punctuality and privacy to avoid unruliness of the belly. On treatment: "I hate remedies that are more troublesome than the disease itself." On the most preferable ailments: here the essayist writes of the advantages of stone: that is, the agony always ends, the disease does not portend death or worse, the sufferer spends more time feeling well than hurting, and it has political advantages for allowing a show of stoicism. And there is more.
This short narrative, delivered in the first person by the protagonist, George Dedlow, is a summary of the fictive experience of a wounded Civil War Captain. George's training as a surgeon was interrupted by the war and he entered the Union Army as an infantry officer. He was shot by musket in both arms, resulting in the amputation of one at the shoulder. After rehabilitation, he returned to the battlefield, only to lose both legs at mid-thigh and subsequently the remaining arm to infection.
The remainder of the story is that of a trunk, a body and head without extremities, who experiences all the manifestations of the phantom limb syndrome. The final episode is an encounter at a seance during which Dedlow is transiently reunited with his missing legs.
Susan and Matthew Rawlings marry in their late twenties and raise four children. When the youngest child goes off to school Susan, who quit her job to mother, does not experience the sense of freedom that she expected. She feels simultaneously as if she has nothing to do worth doing and never has a spare moment to herself. Her day is taken up in waiting for the children to come home, consulting with the maid or worrying about dinner. She becomes anxious and distant, pulling away from her husband, who begins to have affairs.
Finally, in order to get some time alone, she rents a hotel room every afternoon where she just sits and thinks. Her husband assumes she is having an affair and tracks her down. Knowing that his rational world will not recognize her "irrational" feelings she tells him that she is indeed having an affair. The next day, she returns to the room and kills herself.
Summary:The narrator is watching his "grey-haired neighbor" starting on an early-morning run "anti-clockwise around the block," trying to turn the clock backwards in pursuit of youth and health. The narrator sees this as the age-old quest for virility, satirically recalling historic figures who sought to preserve or enhance their sexual prowess. But he recognizes that these are supremely human impulses--"Don't mock, only the young don't wish to be younger." He muses that perhaps the current fads of jogging and health food are better than some of the more gruesome practices in which mankind has been known to engage.
The Birth, appropriately, is the last of the three birth-cycle poems in The Annals of Chile, Muldoon's latest collection. The three together (all annotated in this database--see Sonogram and Footling) celebrate three aspects of the gestation and delivery of the poet's new daughter.
Beginning with the poet's donning a scrub suit ("lime-green scrubs"), the poem quickly explodes into a festive pyrotechnics that reminds one of Gerard Manley Hopkins and Joyce: ". . . the windlass-women ply their shears / and gralloch-grub / for a footling foot, then, warming to their task, / haul into the inestimable / realm of apple-blossoms and chanterelles and damsons / and eel-spears. . . . "
It takes courage and skill to carry off such a verbal tour de force but Muldoon aptly does so, charging the poem with the newness, sheer power of wonder, and joy of loving a thing for itself that his daughter's birth means to him. This is a joyous poem that can almost visibly demonstrate to students how poetry gets its job done. It may even make more than a few try their hand.