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One of Everything is vol. 54 of the Cleveland Poets Series, and author Fisher's voice and subject matter are, for the most part, rich with the language and imagery of blue-collar, mid-Western, and Southern life experiences. A strong introductory poem, "The Way Home to West Virginia," introduces some of the collection's themes: how the truth of a family--abuse, rape, hard work--might be hidden behind a veneer of gentility and religion; how poems, with their sometimes harsh messages might also be made to appear orderly; and how, for this poet, the "way home" includes looking squarely at "History, signs, salvation: things that hurt."
The poems in each of the book's three sections are excellent, made unique by the writer's intimate and colloquial voice. But, for me, the most amazing poems are the last eleven in the book, as if the poet couldn't bring herself to speak of her daughter Sarah's cystic fibrosis. This illness becomes chief among those "things that hurt" and redefine a family.
The first of these poems is "Story Problem," which introduces the daughter who, at twelve, is already doing the math, figuring out that "going by what / she's been through" she should be at least fourteen. In "Overnight," the poet-narrator cleans up after her daughter and an overnight friend who've been cooking and made a floury mess. Anger and silence reign, and the white flour in the daughter's hair becomes a portent of age, illness, disappearance.
"In Her Hospital Room" is the first to name the illness discovered when Sarah was seven months old. This poem recalls the new diagnosis, the new grief, "how unformed it was," implying that, in poetry, the author might attempt a way to pin down and examine her child's disease.
The illness becomes, in some ways, a sacred connection between mother and daughter. In "Permanent at Ruth Ann's," the beauty operator says to another customer that Sarah "don't want to be coming here. . . for the next forty years." The mother notices the shine in Sarah's eyes--tears or humor?--when she replies "Oh, yes I do." Both daughter and mother know that forty years, for Sarah, might be a miracle.
In "The Sweat Chloride Test Is One Hundred Percent Accurate and Cystic Fibrosis Is One Hundred Percent Fatal," the poet recalls the stunning confirmation of the diagnosis, how it came from a doctor chosen because she was a mother, because "she was from Texas / so her voice sounded a little like home," recalling the poet's family home, one that also hid abuse and threat behind a country accent. A lovely short poem, "Sixty-Five Roses," is a play off the "misnaming, the alias" of cystic fibrosis.
"How I Decided Not to Write a Sestina About Cystic Fibrosis" is a masterful look at how words define and confine us, how something like the story of a daughter's illness might be too big for any received form to contain but must be, like a poem, allowed to unfold organically. The poem looks at misunderstood words, important words, and the significance of last words, which in this poem is "cry." "CF Clinic, Children's Hospital," is a luminous poem that captures both the beauty and horror of suffering in memorable images and language. "Unknown Caller" is a found poem, copied from the automated appointment reminder that appeared on the author's answering machine, ending "To make a change, please press 2."
The two last poems in the collection don't attempt to make a change but to accept and mourn what is. "Crescendo, Decrescendo" compares coughing fits, the "quivering breath" of Sarah's violin playing, and the mother's cry, like Sarah's newborn cry when "they went ahead and cut the cord." The final poem, "How It Is," focuses on the reality of the daughter's body and her prognosis, how the mother longs to rock the now-grown woman as she did the baby, a rocking "not so different from the keening of grief."
Harry is a writer on safari in Africa with his wife, Helen. They are temporarily stranded when their truck breaks down from a burned-out bearing. While photographing a herd of waterbuck, Harry's knee is scratched by a thorn. Gangrene develops in his right leg. Harry attributes the problem to his failure to apply iodine to the wound.
The rotting leg has an awful stench but Harry denies any pain or horror. He is just angry and extremely fatigued. He resents his wife (and maybe even her wealth) and is verbally cruel to her. While he rests, she shoots a ram. Harry reminisces about the people and places in his past. He has multiple flashbacks and contemplates all the writing he had one day hoped to do about the many experiences he has accumulated in his life but realizes nothing more will be accomplished. He senses the heavy presence of death.
When a rescue plane finally arrives, Harry is transported over the summit of Mt. Kilimanjaro, the highest mountain in Africa. But wait. It seems Harry was only dreaming. There is no rescue plane yet. Helen discovers that her husband has died in his sleep. Outside their tent, a hyena makes a strange noise that resembles the sound of a human being crying.
The diagnosis is delivered in the opening sentence: "a bad heart." Anton Rosicky is an immigrant to the United States from Czechoslovakia. The 65 year old man and his wife, Mary, own a farm in Nebraska. They have five sons and a daughter. Rosicky is an ordinary fellow with one remarkable quality--a genuine love for people. He is attached to his family, the land, and hard work. His physician, Doctor Ed Burleigh, writes a prescription for Rosicky and instructs him to avoid strenuous activities.
The young doctor is quite fond of Mr. and Mrs. Rosicky and speculates that tender and generous people like this couple are more interested in relishing life than getting ahead in it. Although he knows better, one day Rosicky overexerts himself raking thistles and bringing some horses into the barn. He experiences chest pain accompanied by shortness of breath. His daughter-in-law, Polly, helps him into bed and applies moist hot towels to his chest.
Unfortunately, Dr. Ed is out of town--his first vacation in seven years. Rosicky appears to recover from the episode but the following day after enjoying breakfast with his family, the chest pain recurs and he dies at home. When Dr. Ed returns from his trip, he stops at the graveyard near the farm. He realizes that the natural beauty and serenity of the landscape make a fitting final resting place for a farmer like Rosicky and a man whose life was not only rich with love but deeply fulfilling.
While on an airplane, Carson experiences abdominal pain. He is a divorced man in his fifties and a sales representative for a computer and information technology firm. He spends much of his time traveling and fancies himself "a connoisseur of cities." The increasingly severe stomach pain forces Carson to reschedule his business meeting and retreat to his hotel room.
His suffering mounts and he decides to visit the emergency department of the city hospital. Carson is evaluated by two young male doctors and later a middle-aged female physician. Despite blood tests and X-rays, his diagnosis remains murky and a surgical consultation is obtained. The surgeon suspects appendicitis. He postulates that Carson may have a retrocecal appendix and explains that in such cases the anatomical location of the organ often confounds the diagnosis.
Carson undergoes surgery. His appendix is indeed retrocecal and rupturing. He spends five days convalescing from the operation. During that time he acquires an intimate knowledge of the city from his stay at the hospital. The experience revitalizes him. Carson reasons that the world is miraculous in part because it is so simple yet still spectacular.
For three weeks the narrator has been working as a clerk in the emergency department. His good friend, Georgie, is a hospital orderly. Both men abuse drugs, and Georgie steals them from the hospital. The ER staff includes Nurse (an overweight woman who shakes) and the Family Service doctor (a physician with limited competence who is not well-liked).
At 3:30 A.M., a man named Terrence Weber arrives at the ER. He has a hunting knife stuck deep in his eye. Ironically, his other eye is artificial. Weber's wife apparently tried to blind him because he ogled the woman next door. The doctor immediately decides the situation is beyond his expertise and calls for an ophthalmologist, neurosurgeon, and anesthesiologist.
Meanwhile Georgie is prepping Weber for surgery. The drugged-up orderly, who cannot even tie his shoe at this point, somehow removes the knife by himself. Weber's vision is fine. Later on, the narrator and Georgie get lost while driving around in a pick-up truck without headlights. The truck runs over a jackrabbit on the road. Intent on making rabbit stew, Georgie cuts the animal open with the hunting knife he had earlier removed from Weber's eye. The rabbit is pregnant with eight miniature bunnies inside her.
Georgie decides to save the babies. Unfortunately the narrator forgets about the rabbits and accidentally squashes them to death. At the end of the story the two men encounter a hitchhiker who has gone AWOL from military service. Georgie promises to take him to Canada.
Manlius is a 5th C Roman patrician living in Provence who has studied with the wise, reclusive Sophia. He writes his understanding of her teaching in his essay, 'Dream of Scipio,' which trades on an essay by the great Roman orator, Cicero. Sensing that the Empire is gravely threatened, he makes a pact with barbarians, sells out his neighbors, slays his adopted son, and becomes a bishop of the Christian religion, which he has long despised. Late in this ruthless and doomed attempt to salvage what he values most in his world, Sophia makes it clear that he has misunderstood her teaching.
Olivier is an astonishingly gifted 14th century Provencal poet whose intolerant father tries to stifle his love of letters, among which is Manlius's 'Dream'; his father destroys the manuscript, but Olivier recopies it from memory. As plague advances on their region, Olivier finds a mentor in the high churchman, Ceccani, who is bent on keeping the papacy in Avignon. He plans to destroy Jews as symbolic expiation for plague, widely construed to be a form of divine punishment. Olivier befriends a Jewish scholar and falls in love with his beautiful heretic servant.
The 'Dream' and the imprisonment of his friends lead Olivier to question and then betray his mentor. Either because of his efforts to save them, or for his role in a murder, he is mutilated--his tongue and hands cut off to rob him of speech and writing. The brutal mutilation appears early in the book--it is not fully explained until the end.
Julien is a French historian who has studied the poet, Olivier, and the rendition of Manlius' manuscript. He finds solace in his erudition as his county falls to the Nazi occupation. An old school friend who is a collaborator, gives him work as a censor and tolerates Julien's Jewish lover, the artist Julia. In the end, Julien is forced to choose between saving either another school friend in the Resistance or Julia. He chooses Julia, looses her anyway, and commits suicide in a vain attempt to warn his friend.
Summary:This story of one exceptionally accomplished family's discovery of their past and future relationships with Huntington's Disease (HD) is also the story of how the Wexler family changed the cultural narrative of HD for other families at risk for this genetically-transmitted and currently incurable disease. The HD diagnosis of Leonore Wexler (the author's mother) inspires Milton Wexler, a psychologist, to create a major foundation for HD research, which develops critical mass and influence as Leonore Wexler's condition deteriorates, and after her death. The book interweaves the story of the Wexlers' emotional and other negotiations with HD and the story of their efforts to create an HD community comprised of those with active symptoms of HD, family members, advocates, and researchers.
A child dies in the hospital shortly after the infectious disease consultant, Dr. Michael Grant, evaluates her. The 35-year-old physician has cause to be troubled by the patient's death. He failed to perform a careful examination, did not check the results of her most recent lab tests, and held off on ordering antibiotics. Although an autopsy was not performed, it is believed she died of sepsis.
Divorced and recently relocated to North Carolina, Dr. Grant is already depressed. Now he must worry about the possibility of a malpractice lawsuit. Jonas Williams, the father of the dead child, is also ill. He complains of fatigue, visual disturbances, confusion, night sweats, and fever. Jonas has developed unusual lesions in his throat and retina--white threads in a serpentine pattern. A biopsy of his oral lesion demonstrates the presence of osteoblasts and new bone formation. Dr. Grant becomes convinced he has stumbled onto a completely new infectious illness even though he cannot identify the causative organism.
Jonas experiences gastrointestinal bleeding as a result of a low platelet count. He dies in a trailer that has caught on fire. Dr. Grant soon develops the same symptoms as his patient. He remembers coming into contact with some of Jonas's blood. He is admitted to the hospital with massive gastrointestinal bleeding. His physician attributes the bleeding to ulcers, gastritis, and thrombocytopenia. Dr. Grant, however, believes the bleeding is due to the same mysterious disease that Jonas had.
The body of Jonas's daughter is exhumed, and there is anatomic evidence of the same bizarre changes that occurred in her father. Dr. Grant visits a cabin in the woods where Jonas had lived. He is looking for clues to the puzzling new illness. What he finds, however, is not an answer. Instead, it is a renewed appreciation for his life as well as the world around him.
When we view photographs of war-torn bodies, piled-up corpses, or starving children, are we changed? How about the photographer, whether a professional or an amateur, who takes such pictures? Do these photographs teach us about suffering--or do they numb us over time and simply cause us to turn away? In this slim book Sontag re-visits her ideas in "On Photography," published 25 years ago.
Her aim, it seems, is not so much to answer the above questions but to provoke us by her statements, urging us at least to THINK about what happens when suffering is viewed third hand; because after all, she reminds us, we see only what the photographer wanted us to see. When scenes of violence are as close as our morning papers or our TV screens, Sontag's is an important debate.
She also gives a brief history of photo-journalism, from the Crimean and Civil Wars to the almost instantaneous transmission of images from Operation Iraqi Freedom. In chapters that sometimes seem to disagree with one another, she plays the devil's advocate and views the IDEA of photographs of suffering from all directions. Can gruesome photos be artistic? Should they be? And if a war photo is posed--a corpse moved for a better shot or a battle scene restaged to make it more dramatic--is the effect enhanced or decreased? She considers the impact of candid photos versus those technologically manipulated; she discusses how photos, and their impact on us, change when the names of the victims are revealed.
High-school freshman Barry Wilson enrolls in Bay Area Social Concerns and must visit 83-year-old Miss Pierce at Cherry Garden Convalescent Hospital. Barry, short, shy, and miserable at his first visit, thinks of pictures of mummies he's seen in National Geographic; Miss Pierce thinks he's somebody named Willie.
But as Miss Pierce talks about her brother Willie and her childhood as a cripple, Barry gets interested. The story isn't a happy one, and Barry, himself adopted, identifies with Willie's abandoned child and becomes angry with the world until he comes to realize how important he is to his parents.