Showing 51 - 60 of 64 annotations contributed by Davis, Cortney

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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In the Surgical Theatre

Levin, Dana

Last Updated: Jul-06-2000
Annotated by:
Davis, Cortney

Primary Category: Literature / Poetry

Genre: Collection (Poems)

Summary:

In this complex poetry collection (divided into three sections, "Body," "Home," and "World"), the author moves from the specifics of the individual diseased or dying body to the more universal realm of suffering and politics. Not so much a poet of narratives as a conjurer of images, Levin writes from changing points of view: first as a man, then as a woman; as a surgeon, then a patient.

Poet Louise Gl├╝ck's introduction states that the book's power "derives from ambiguity: the raised scalpel-healing that looks like assault," and Levin's raw imagery is indeed both challenging and celebratory. In the opening poem, "Lenin's Bath," we watch with Dr. Sergei Debov as Lenin's corpse is tenderly submerged in a vat of embalming fluid. Debov imagines the germs that crawl along the cadaver "seeking a way in."

In the next poem, "Eyeless Baby," the reader becomes a caregiver searching a deformed infant's face that is nothing but a single nostril and a cleft palate. In "Bathhouse, 1980," we see (as the blind baby cannot) through a young homosexual man's eyes both the human longing for passion and the viral "scourge" that, again, seeks entrance. The angels that gather in the bathhouse's corner become nurses ("The Nurse") who swarm like moths over a hospitalized patient's body.

This interweaving of place and point of view continues throughout, creating a magical, disturbing world in which a reader can be both body ("The Baby on the Table") and healer ("In the Surgical Theatre"). Other powerful poems include "Personal History," "The Beautiful Names" (in which a young boy learns to name the sexual organs and so discovers their beauty), and "Witness."

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Flying Out with the Wounded

Caston, Anne

Last Updated: Feb-29-2000
Annotated by:
Davis, Cortney

Primary Category: Literature / Poetry

Genre: Collection (Poems)

Summary:

This stark and sensual poetry collection is divided into three sections. The first, "Graveyard Shift," introduces the narrator's themes: the keen observation of suffering; the questioning of God's role in such suffering; the way caregivers and patients meld in shared moments of trauma; the struggle to integrate the reality of death and grief into a life outside the healthcare arena.

A longer second section, "Lessons," contains a chronology of poems that broaden the poet's themes. Suffering becomes personal through sexual abuse ("The Burning"), death of a baby ("To the Woman in the Next Bed," "Waiting Room," "Last Lullaby for the Dead Child"), and breast cancer ("Keeping Watch"); the mystery of God's role becomes the narrator's religious quest.

The final section, "The Ones Who Come," opens these themes to the universal: children and adults lost to "the holocausts" of war, poverty, and illness ("Lizard Whiskey: A Parting Gift from Viet Nam," "After the Siege," "The Ones Who Come," "The Man Who Stays Sane"), and how history repeats these cycles of birth, suffering, and death.

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The World I Made for Her

Moran, Thomas

Last Updated: Jan-28-2000
Annotated by:
Davis, Cortney

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

This novel is the fictionalized account of author Thomas Moran's real-life experience as a patient with disseminated chicken pox. During his five months in hospital, much of that time on a ventilator, Moran experienced "coma visions" and near death which he retells here through his alter ego, James Blatchely, a man who struggles to remain emotionally alive in spite of the virus's physical assault. Blatchely does this by observing, befriending, and then fantasizing a life for his two Irish nurses--Brigit who, he discovers, uses drugs to endure the pain she witnesses daily in Intensive Care, and Nuala, with whom he falls in love.

Through the depiction of Blatchely's erratic, inching descent toward death, readers gain visceral insight into a patient's encounter with critical illness--but the real heroes of this book are the nurses. We observe them through Blatchely's eyes, and they are the force that enables him to survive, if not in body, at least in mind. This beautifully written novel creates a world in which both patients and caregivers are fully human, bound together by their shared experience of the patient's illness and by the life the imagination enjoys when the body cannot.

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Annotated by:
Davis, Cortney

Primary Category: Literature / Poetry

Genre: Collection (Poems)

Summary:

This pocket-sized book contains stories from the home front--poems about patients the nurse-author tends in their apartments and in her clinic. Often, the patients speak, teaching us not only what it's like to be elderly and lonely, but also how to view mainstream healthcare from a different perspective.

Most important, we learn about the courage with which these patients cope with illness and poverty, and how nurses honor their patients' choices through non-judgmental caring. Outstanding poems include "The Language of Hearts," "Passages," "Lower Midline Surgical Scar," "The Screamer in Room 4," and "Home Remedies for the Blues."

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