Showing 41 - 50 of 58 annotations contributed by Davis, Cortney

Eclipse

Bryner, Jeanne

Last Updated: Nov-20-2003
Annotated by:
Davis, Cortney

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Collection (Short Stories)

Summary:

Poet and writer Jeanne Bryner has assembled 24 short stories to give us Eclipse, a wise and tender collection that reflects her blue-collar roots in Appalachia and industrial Ohio, and also her work as a registered nurse. These stories are about real human beings, flawed and graced, who, for the most part, care for one another, whether family or stranger, with compassion and the kind of acceptance that comes from living a hard life. Bryner's writing skills move these characters beyond easy stereotype and turn their actions--their anger over the death of a loved one or the cooking of a Sunday supper--into transformative metaphors that illuminate the sorrows and joys of everyday life.

The following stories might be of particular interest to those teaching or studying literature and medicine: "Sara's Daughters," in which a woman undergoes artificial insemination and, through her thoughts and her conversations with the nurse, perfectly reveals an infertile woman's humiliation, longing, and hope; "The Jaws of Life," in which a young woman takes her Aunt Mavis to visit Uncle Webster in a nursing home and there observes the poignant interactions of the well and the dying, the young and the old, moments infused with both charity and dread.

In addition: "Turn the Radio to a Gospel Station," in which two cleaning ladies in a hospital ER observe and philosophize about what goes on around them, the deaths and near-deaths, the kindness or mutinies of nurses, the doctors' mechanical repetition of questions, the lovers hiding in the linen closet; "The Gemini Sisters," in which a group of weight-watching women meet to shed pounds and talk about life; "Foxglove Canyon," in which a registered nurse with forty year's experience relates memories of her work, her family, and how things change when a writer comes to teach the staff and the patients about poetry, "the flower you stumble across growing near the barn, a purple bloom that nobody planted."

"Red Corvette" examines the intimacy that develops between family members, particularly when one is caregiver to the other. In this story a woman comes to visit her post-op sister and remembers, while watching her sister suffer in pain, their childhood, those moments of freedom and health she yearns for her sister to regain.

"The Feel of Flannel" is about a woman who, like her mother and grandmother, has breast cancer. She refuses to participate in a research project but instead barrels ahead into her uncertain future, planning to wear her nightgown to the grocery store and tattoo her husband's name "right here when this port comes out."

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Dehiscence

Haddad, Amy Marie

Last Updated: Jun-02-2003
Annotated by:
Davis, Cortney

Primary Category: Literature / Poetry

Genre: Poem

Summary:

In her poem, "Dehiscence," Amy Haddad speaks in the voice of a nurse tending a suffering patient. The patient has "come unstitched," and, seen through the nurse's eyes, the patient's wounds are devastating: fistulas "connect bowel, liver, pancreas"; the "stench is overwhelming," telling everyone, caregiver and patient alike, that medical science has failed, that no more can be done.

Moved by her patient's suffering and her own inability to help, the nurse does what she can. She washes the patient, changes the soiled sheets, removes the dirty dressings and replaces them with clean gauze and tape. "Done," she says. Stepping back, looking from a distance, she can no longer see the patient's wounds. She "is caught," as all caregivers have been at one time or another, in "the illusion" of the patient's "wholeness."

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Annotated by:
Davis, Cortney

Primary Category: Literature / Literature

Genre: Anthology (Mixed Genres)

Summary:

An anthology of poetry and prose by doctors, nurses, patients, and other authors, A Life in Medicine is divided into four sections: "Physicians Must Be Altruistic"; "Physicians Must Be Knowledgeable"; "Physicians Must Be Skillful"; and "Physicians Must Be Dutiful." Each section begins with the Association of American Medical Colleges' (AAMC) definition of the physician trait examined in that section, and short "explications" precede each individual poem and prose piece, linking them to the section's overall theme.

The anthology has a preface outlining the editors' goals and Robert Coles's introduction, "The Moral Education of Medical Students." These organizational touches make the anthology a classroom-ready text for medical students. The anthology's poems and prose--many of which are stunning--were taken from previously published works and exclude many well-known and often-used pieces. But those selections are readily available elsewhere, and the editors do readers a greater service by introducing many lesser-known, but equally important, poems and essays.

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The Andrew Poems

Wagner, Shelly

Last Updated: Aug-02-2002
Annotated by:
Davis, Cortney

Primary Category: Literature / Poetry

Genre: Collection (Poems)

Summary:

This book contains 47 poems about the accidental drowning of the author's son, Andrew, when he was almost six years old. This cycle of elegiac poems begins with the author's memory of Andrew's birth, then quickly plunges into the specifics of his drowning and the details of his family's daily life and survival since. All of the poems are excellent--direct and well crafted.

Outstanding poems include "The Boxes," which recounts how the police searched the author's house when she first reported her child missing; "Wet," in which Andrew's grandfather comes to his house for a blanket with which to cover his newly-discovered body; "The Limousine" and "Thomas Birthday" which describe the funeral and the birthday party held the day after the funeral for Andrew's older brother, showing how grief and happiness collide; "The Pearl," in which the author laments all things undone and not said, yet recognizes that "The pain that has come between us / will someday be our pearl"; "Faded," which expresses a common fear: that if grief fades, so will memory of the loved one; "Communion," in which, on the first anniversary of Andrew's death, the author mimics the religious ritual as she eats peanut butter and jelly at her son's place at the table, drinks from his plastic cup: "When I finished, / I wiped my eyes with your napkin, / gave thanks, / ate the bread and drank the milk."

Other important poems are "Dust," "In Our Beds," "Again," "Foxes," "The Dance," "Your Questions" (a long poem in which she speaks to those who wonder how she can bear such loss), "To My Parents," "Driving" (a stunning poem in which the author, years after Andrew's death, thinks she sees him in a passing car), and "I Thirst." In this last and final poem, the author's lines might well be taken to heart by all caregivers: "Fear of loss / and walls of self protection / will kill me / long before a broken heart. / I pray, / let every death / break me so."

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Code Blue

Berlin, Richard

Last Updated: Aug-20-2001
Annotated by:
Davis, Cortney

Primary Category: Literature / Poetry

Genre: Collection (Poems)

Summary:

In his first chapbook of poems, Richard Berlin, a psychiatrist, writes about his current work with patients ("What a Psychiatrist Remembers," "Rough Air," "Berlin Wall," "Jumpology"), about his experiences on medical wards and as a student ("Anatomy Lab," "Sleight of Hand," "Alzheimer's Unit," "Obstetrics Ward, County Hospital"), about love and family and how medicine sometimes infiltrates even these sanctuaries ("How JFK Killed My Father," "Tools," "Our Medical Marriage") and, most effectively, about the complexities inherent in the role of physician and healer ("What to Call Me," "After Watching Chicago Hope," "Code Blue," "What I Love"). In other poems, he observes the human condition through the veil of medicine ("Hospital Food," "PTSD").

The lure of these poems is Berlin's facility with metaphor; he has a talent for spinning a particular image or observation into revelation. He is also willing to allow puzzlement, doubt, and fear into his poems, effectively conveying both the virtuosity of the teacher and the wonder of the student. Reading this collection, I felt as if the poet was a presence both within the poems and outside of them, like the psychiatrist who must enter the mind of the patient and, at the same time, step back and become a safe guide. It is this double vision that sets his poetry apart.

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Still Life in Milford

Lynch, Thomas

Last Updated: May-22-2001
Annotated by:
Davis, Cortney

Primary Category: Literature / Poetry

Genre: Collection (Poems)

Summary:

In this collection, Thomas Lynch, a funeral director, examines many of the same topics he explores in his essays (see this database for annotations of The Undertaking: Life Studies from the Dismal Trade and Bodies in Motion and at Rest: On Metaphor and Mortality). In section one, he writes about sin and redemption ("Attende Domine," "Inviolata," "Panis Angelicus"), death and grief ("Late April," "Month’s Mind,"), love and sex ("O Gloriosa Virginum," "Casablanca," "Veni Creator Spiritus," "The Hammock"), and introduces his own point-of-view as one who tends the dead ("In Paradisum").

In the second section, Lynch delves more deeply into sin ("Byzance") and memory. In the section’s first poem, "Liberty," Lynch introduces himself as a man from a "fierce bloodline of men," and in the next five poems writes about "Argyle," perhaps a relative, perhaps an alter-ego. A long poem, "The Moveen Notebook," follows, relating the story of Lynch’s family home in Ireland and his relatives who lived and died there, ancestors who are also represented in Lynch’s essays. The rest of the poems expand upon family and memory and serve to complete the portrait of the narrator, a man who tends "toward preachment / and the body politic," who rages and who wants to "offer a witness" ("St. James’ Park Epistle").

The poems in section three serve as laments. Here Lynch addresses the failures of gods and men ("A Rhetoric upon Brother Michael’s Rhetoric upon the Window," "One of Jack’s") and the wonder of aging ("Loneliest of Trees, The Winter Oak"). But the main body of this section comprises stark poems about women and poems about Lynch’s work ("Heavenward," "The Lives of Women," "That Scream if You Ever Hear It," "These Things Happen in the Lives of Women," "How It’s Done Here," "At the Opening of Oak Grove Cemetery Bridge").

In "Couplets," Lynch speaks of teaching his sons the funeral business and the horrors they witness. In the brief poem "Aubade," he tells of an abused woman’s suicide. The last poem of the book, "Still Life in Milford--Oil on Canvas by Lester Johnson," is both a portrait of the town and of the author: "Between the obsequies, I play with words."

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Annotated by:
Davis, Cortney

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Journal

Summary:

Anna, the "I" of this journal, suffered the pain of emotional abuse in her childhood. As an adult, she works in a hospice and cares for patients consumed by physical pain. She begins to "hunger for storylessness," wishing to find a way to separate pain from the experience of pain; yet without a narrative frame she cannot recognize pain in its original and pure state--the pain that occurs before language or thought. And so she enters into a meditation practice in order to see pain "uncompounded."

The book is divided into three sections, each reflecting a part of Anna's meditation practice and each containing sections of dreams, meditation notes, and musings on three friends who have died. As her meditations deepen, Anna begins to see pain in more detail, and in so doing begins to understand the difference between pain and suffering. Pain, she concludes, is inevitable. But suffering can be dismantled, carefully, like a house might be. The goal is to keep the house "whole enough" so it doesn't collapse and crush the individual living within.

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Annotated by:
Davis, Cortney

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Collection (Essays)

Summary:

This collection of 20 essays continues and expands upon the theme--how we living care for our dead and incorporate them into memory--that Thomas Lynch, a poet and undertaker, introduced in his first book, The Undertaking: Life Studies from the Dismal Trade (see this database).

In this new book, Lynch writes rambling pieces that begin with some observation about his funereal trade then blaze off into musings about religion ("The Dead Priest"), love and divorce ("The Blindness of Love," "Y2Cat"), poetry ("Reno," "Notes on 'A Note on the Rapture to His True Love'"), and the interplay of mortality and morality ("Wombs," "The Bang & Whimper and the Boom"). In his first book, Lynch wrote scathingly of abortion and mercy killing, and here he continues his thought provoking considerations of both.

In what might be the most interesting and radical essay in this collection, "Wombs," Lynch walks a precarious line between pro-life and pro-choice rhetoric; ultimately, he asserts a woman's right to abhor decisions about her body that "leave her out." At the same time, he asks if the reproductive choices available to women, "when considered for men," might not seem "irresponsible, overly indulgent, and selfish." What if, he writes, men could declare (without stating their reasons) their interest in their unborn children "null and void, ceased and aborted?" Lynch, who spends most of his time in the contemplation of the deceased, seems to find in death a spark of life; then he fans it into flame with language.

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Annotated by:
Davis, Cortney

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Collection (Essays)

Summary:

A 199-page collection of twelve essays by undertaker and poet Thomas Lynch, superficially about his mortuary trade, but actually about much more--life and death; the process of mourning; how we human beings pass though our common lives with grace or desperation; how the graveside ritual serves memory, family, and society. In the preface, Lynch says that early on he came to understand that the undertaking trade he would inherit from his father had little to do with what was done to the dead, but everything to do with how the living responded to the deaths of loved ones, neighbors, and friends.

Particularly outstanding essays include "The Undertaking," in which Lynch divulges the practical and emotional secrets of his trade as he buries Milo, a man who owned a Laundromat; "Crapper," a humorous, rollicking essay that demonstrates our modern society's inability to deal either with the thought of dying or the actual dead body; "The Gulfatorium," a flight of fancy about building a graveyard in a golf course, but really about the nature of suffering and the afterlife; "Mary & Wilbur," about neighbors, about our fear of death and our impulse to memorialize; "Uncle Eddie, Inc.," about an uncle's "clean-up service" that sanitized rooms after messy suicides and about the natural order of life and death and the moral implications of our manipulation of that order through assisted suicide, abortion, and genetic manipulation. My personal favorite is the final essay, "Tract," in which Lynch says how he wants his own death and burial to be managed, how he, a witness to our final rituals, wants to be witnessed.

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Cold River

Larkin, Joan

Last Updated: Aug-15-2000
Annotated by:
Davis, Cortney

Primary Category: Literature / Poetry

Genre: Collection (Poems)

Summary:

This collection's first section contains eight poems that address AIDS. "Inventory," a listing of the author's acquaintances who have died of AIDS, catalogs a variety of responses to this illness. Other poems are stark portraits of death in progress ("Waste Not," "Photo") as well as evidence of the love and coping skills a diagnosis of AIDS elicits ("Althea," "In Time of Plague," "Sonnet Positive"). "The Review" ironically compares a popular movie about AIDS to its reality: in the movie, family members do not flinch from kissing their infected son.

The second section addresses coming out as a Lesbian ("In the Duchess"), domestic violence ("Beatings"), and Lesbian sexuality and relationships ("Hunger" and "Want"). "My Body" is another effective "list" poem, a catalog of the female body and how its physical dimension becomes the visual history of a life "healed and healed again."

The final eight poems examine the difficult relationship between a daughter and her dying mother. The book comes full circle as the "swift river" (death from AIDS) of the book's opening poem becomes the "cold river" the speaker now swims in, a metaphor for internalizing a mother's "bitter edge" as well as the accumulated deaths of friends and lovers ("Cold River").

"To Spirit," "Journey," and "Here" regard the daughter's deathwatch over her mother. The remaining five poems serve to balance loss and hope, especially "Legacy," in which the narrator accepts how age is transforming her own body into her mother's, "her scared eyes shining in triumph."

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