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For those who have enjoyed his previous collections, this edition of new and collected poems (22 new, the rest culled from collections published from 1972-1998) will be a welcome and rich sampling of Stone's work, wide-ranging in style and subject. The three sections of new poems include a series about incidents in Serenity Gardens, his mother's nursing home; a series of "Reflections from the Middle East" that chronicle moments evocative of classical and biblical story and ethos as well as touching, comic incidents in the life of a 60-something tourist; and a short series of poems based on memories from childhood and young adulthood.
The poems tend toward narrative; many are little stories complete with plot in one to two pages of short lines; Stone's gifts for both chronicle and condensation give many of the poems a lively tension: what is told suggests how much isn't.
As a collection it is possible here to trace the stylistic development from the early poems in The Smell of Matches with their strong autobiographical focus and sense of intimate scene and situation to the recent ones, still strongly personal, but reflective, sometimes ironic, with lines that render the self-awareness of the older poet in sometimes comic flashes.
Megan is deaf, but has managed to make a comfortable niche for herself in her neighborhood as well as being a force to be reckoned with in a family where she wants no pity and insists on as much independence as possible. The summer Cindy moves in down the street is full of changes for her. Their friendship teaches both girls new skills in giving and receiving help, understanding, and loyalty.
Cindy needs to learn when and how to offer help. She also learns sign language. Megan needs to learn how to receive the concessions and help others offer without defensiveness. When the girls go to camp together they are taken under the wing of a counselor with a deaf sister who knows how to sign and who integrates them into camp life gracefully and protectively. Their friendship is challenged when Megan meets Lizzy who is also deaf, and who therefore shares common ground with Megan in ways Cindy can't.
The three girls form a bond, but not without rivalry and misunderstanding. After a period of estrangement during which both Megan and Cindy have to reevaluate their strategies of giving and receiving help and leadership, they reaffirm a friendship that involves a new maturity in understanding the demands of real inclusiveness.
Steven is a gifted junior high school drummer with an imagination that takes him some distance from his writing assignments into musing on his own life. The book chronicles his experience of the year his five-year-old brother, Jeffrey, was diagnosed with leukemia. The shift from consuming preoccupation with preparation for a drumming contest and competition for a particular girl's attention to radical concern about a brother he has primarily regarded as a pest takes him through ruminations both profound and hilarious.
Jeffrey's illness oddly makes Steven an object of his friends' admiration and pity, neither of which he thinks he wants or deserves. His priorities and plans begin to take a back seat to working with his parents to get Jeffrey through treatments, in the course of which he meets a girl at the hospital who teaches him a new level of friendship before her own disease gets the better of her and she dies. The story ends with Jeffrey's return home, an uncertain future, and an altered perspective on life for Steven who finds himself able to love in ways he hadn't imagined.
Summary:In twenty-four short lines and colloquial diction, this poem movingly conveys the immense change that the deaths of several people close to the speaker have made in the simple act of answering the phone. "Used to / you'd say / Hello / and think nothing of it," the poem begins, but after the deaths "all that changed / and you think / now before you answer the phone / you take a deep breath . . ."
A very old Navajo grandmother believes it is time her 10-year-old granddaughter, Annie, learns to weave. Gathering her family in the hogan, she asks each of them to choose a gift they wish to have (Annie’s eyes choose the weaving stick) as she announces to her family that when the weaving of the new rug is completed, she will go to Mother Earth.
Determined to delay her mother from finishing the rug, Annie plans her distractions. She acts out in school, letting the sheep out of their pen, and, most significantly, unravels at night what her mother had woven during the day. The adults catch on.
The Old One’s gentle explanations of nature’s ways--the inevitability of death and the ultimate connectedness of the whole universe--eventually comfort and inspire Annie: "The sun rose but it also set. The cactus did not bloom forever. Petals dried and fell to earth . . . She would always be a part of the earth, just as her grandmother had always been, just as her grandmother would always be, always and forever." Annie picks up her grandmother’s weaving stick, kneels at the loom and begins to weave "as her mother had done, as her grandmother had done."
Deserted by her husband, who teaches in a bucolic, private school for the visually impaired, Candida is a 50-ish, unemployed woman, estranged from her three daughters, at least two of whom blame her for the failure of her marriage. To the astonishment of everyone in her sphere, she embarks on a completely new, though modest life in a tiny, walkup flat in one of London's immigrant communities. Her consciously passive efforts to find new friends and discard old ones leads her to keep a diary, to take a night course on Virgil, and improbably--when the night school closes--to join the Health club that replaces it.
Eventually, she assembles six new friends--the seven sisters--for an Aeneas-like journey from Carthage to Rome, with plans to consult the Cumean Sybil en route. Illness draws her closer to her middle daughter, Ellen, whose own perspectives on her parents' marriage contrast with those of her mother. Illness also forces an abrupt end to the travels. Candida wrestles with the issues of survival, suicide, and the meaning of life for an aging woman in an aging body whose entire purpose had once been helpmeet and mother. Can any other purpose be found?
Ten "forms of devotion" are described briefly in one or two pages of accessible, everyday prose: Faith, Memory, Knowledge, Innocence, Strength, Imagination, Prayer, Abundance, Wisdom, Hope. Each is illustrated with an engraving of an allegorical image with Latin and gothic German text. In the first mini-essay, the narrator contends that "the faithful are everywhere." She demonstrates that faith in a future and in immortal continuity is the driving force, not only for religious folk, but for anyone who goes to school, gets up each day, drives to work, embarks on a journey, takes a pill.
The following mini-essays show how each of the forms of devotion are wielded by "the faithful" to carry on valiantly confronting the challenges of ordinary existence. Faith and Hope together beget power. By the end, the reader senses a certain irony--as if the writer is not a member of the faithful. She may acknowledge and sometimes envy their resolute success, but does she share it? Perhaps not, and we are left wondering if she even admires it.
What appear to be early-twentieth-century anatomical engravings of various body parts--eye, tongue, spine, breast, legs, foot, genitalia--accompany a male narrator's thoughts about his wife and their relationship. He describes the "good days" and "bad days" in their mundane life. He suspects that she may be having an affair and wonders if he should have one too. Her disturbing restlessness is felt "in [his] bones," but he avoids confronting it, hoping that they will continue happy.
A woman describes the male body, beginning with the torso--neck, chest, belly, genitals--then the appendages, the back, and finally the head. Her description features the appearance and uses of these anatomical parts from the perspective of female taste and needs. The essay is illustrated with strategically placed images of the human form in exotic settings, taken from Bernard Siegfried Albinus's remarkable treatise of anatomy of the mid-eighteenth century.
The narrator has four loves--one for each chamber of her heart: right atrium, right ventricle, left atrium, left ventricle: music (from her mother), painting (from her husband), language (shared with her son), and light. Each section, introduced by an anatomical engraving of the heart, describes how the love entered and developed in her life. Their relative importance is related to the size and thickness of the cardiac chambers. Carefully placed engravings of domestic scenes and landscapes, mostly nineteenth century, complete the essay.