Showing 51 - 60 of 81 annotations contributed by Kohn, Martin
Grandma's life was fully spent. Sensing her time was ending, she climbed up three flights of stairs, took to her bed, and began to die. The other inhabitants of the great house, her children and grandchildren, cried out for her. How could her great vibrancy end? What would become of them--of the house--without her? Grandma reassures those surrounding her that "no person ever died that had a family . . . other parts of me called Uncle Bert and Leo and Tom and Douglas, and all the other names, will have to take over, each to his own" (427-428).
A physician seeks solace at the South Pole. Her planned one year stay there is cut short when she discovers a lump in her breast. The attempts to care for her at the South Pole (with telecommunicated help from the U.S.) prove insufficient and a plan to rescue her is successful.
There's more than the drama of illness in a remote location in this book, however. Intertwined with this story of illness is the story of the author's troubled marriage (to her physician-husband), the eventual estrangement from her children, the support of her family of origin, and most fascinatingly the daily rhythms of living (and doctoring) at the South Pole. Scattered throughout the memoir are occasional critiques of "corporate" medicine and poems that inspired the author throughout her ordeal.
Living in early 20th century Greenwich Village are two young women artists, Sue and Johnsy (familiar for Joanna). They met in May, six months previously, and decided to share a studio apartment. Stalking their artist colony in November is "Mr. Pneumonia." The story begins as Johnsy, near death from pneumonia, lies in bed waiting for the last leaf of an ivy vine on the brick wall she spies through her window to fall.
"I’m tired of thinking," says Johnsy. "I want to turn loose my hold on everything, and go sailing down, down, just like one of those poor, tired leaves"(16). However, an unexpected hero arrives to save Johnsy. It’s not the brusque doctor who gives her only one in ten chances to survive, raising them to one in five if Sue can get her to hope for something important like a man, not her true desire to "paint the Bay of Naples some day" (14).
Mr. Behrman, an old man who lives in the apartment below Sue and Johnsy, who enjoys drinking, works sometimes as an artist’s model, and as yet has made no progress over the past 40 years on painting his own masterpiece, becomes in typical O. Henry fashion the hero. The evidence of his heroics are found the day before he dies from pneumonia: outside Johnsy’s window are a ladder, a lantern still lighted "some scattered brushes, and a palette with green and yellow colors mixed on it . . . it’s Behrman’s masterpiece--he painted it [a leaf] there the night that the last leaf fell"(19), Sue informs Johnsy.
Whether he is bringing to life the farmers in Grant Wood's "American Gothic," or revealing the pain of losing his wife (The Lu Poems), John Stone's work always hits the mark. This collection revolves around themes as varied as music, family, the wonder and horror of being alive in the world, and Stone's own sleep disorder. There are few poems specifically about medicine: "Transplant," "While Watching His Own Electrocardiogram He Welcomes in the New Year," and "Coming Down from Prozac."
Written from prison during the tenth year of a twenty-eight year sentence, "On Living" is a remarkably moving--in fact, uplifting--poem. It is written in three parts. The first part addresses the seriousness of life: "you must live with great seriousness / like a squirrel, for example--" (p.128); later, and more poignantly: "I mean, you must take living so seriously / that even at seventy, for example, you'll plant olive trees-- / and not for your children either," (p.128).
The second part deals with hope and commitment and relates directly to his time in prison. "Let's say we're in prison / and close to fifty, / and we have eighteen more years, say, / before the iron doors will open. / We'll still live with the outside, / with its people and animals, struggle and wind--" (p.129).
The third section deals with the universal, with our grieving for the earth which ". . . will grow cold one day, / not like a block of ice / or a dead cloud even / but like an empty walnut it will roll along / in pitch-black space . . . / You must grieve for this right now / --you have to feel this sorrow now--/ for the world must be loved this much / if you're going to say 'I lived' . . . " (p.129-30).
Leap into the world imagined by Kurt Vonnegut, WNYC's reporter on the afterlife, and land with him at the Pearly Gates, or more precisely, "the hundred yards or so of vacant lot between the far end of the blue tunnel and the Pearly Gates" (8). There, Vonnegut, forever the humanist, has his interviewees talk about that which is of ultimate importance--how they lived (or should have lived) their lives.
Vonnegut begins his journeys from the state-of-the-art lethal injection facility in Huntsville, Texas, and reaches his destination though the able assistance of Jack Kevorkian. Who does he meet at the mid-point of his round trip journeys? Dead folks--many famous ones, some not so famous--21 in all (including his fictional creation, Kilgore Trout). Also on the list of interviewees are John Brown, Clarence Darrow, William Shakespeare, Mary Wallstonecraft Shelley, Karla Faye Tucker (actually put to death in the Huntsville facility), and Isaac Asimov.
My Funeral is a touchingly funny and poignant salute to the beautiful ordinariness of life and a wish for it to go on that way. The speaker of the poem wonders what the scene will be as his body is removed from his apartment. "Maybe there will be sun knee-deep in the yard" or perhaps "a pigeon might drop something on my forehead: it's good luck" But regardless of circumstances, the speaker tells his neighbors: "In this yard I was happier than you'll ever know / Neighbors, I wish you all long lives." (p.239)
The setting for "The Shadow Box" is three cottages on the grounds of a large hospital. Here, three tales unfold, at first serially, and then towards the end of each of the play’s two acts, simultaneously. Each tale features a person who is dying. Each person is surrounded by loved ones. All are trying to face and make sense of death.
The first family we meet is the most conventional. Joe, a working class husband and father, is joined at the cottage by his wife Maggie, who, in denial of Joe’s impending death is afraid to enter the cottage. Their son, Stephen, age 14, has not yet been told of his father’s terminal condition. The second family consists of Brian, who is brutally forthright about his demise; Mark, his doting lover; and Beverly, Brian’s wild ex-wife who comes to visit them. The third family is a feisty, blind, and wheelchair-bound mother, Felicity, and her dutiful daughter, Agnes. An off-stage character, "the interviewer," pops in and out of the scenes, offering insight into the various characters through questioning.
Pipistrel is a tale about difference and lack of understanding. It recounts a teen-aged autistic boy's flight from the destroyed safety of his home to a nearby mountain cave. It also is the story of a mother's love and devotion to this human, yet bat-like creature, whom she bore and whom she can no longer protect.
The mother, Ada, discovers after many months where her son has hidden. She protects his secret hiding place from the townsfolk, but only for a while. After convincing her neighbors that he's no longer in the cave she returns to its depths to find he's fallen from the ceiling and has died. The story's final image is of the mother next to her son's body looking at the drawings he had made on the walls of the cave.
The Shawl is comprised of two stories, "The Shawl" and "Rosa," originally published in The New Yorker respectively in 1980 and 1983. The first and much shorter of the stories is an extremely powerful account of the brutality of the Nazi concentration camps. Rosa, (who we meet again 30 years later in the second story), has been hiding and protecting her daughter Magda in a shawl. Rosa's 14 year old niece, Stella, (who also is central to the second story) takes the shawl from the child for her own comfort. The horrific events that follow, tiny Magda's search for her shawl and discovery by a German soldier who hurtles her to her death against an electrified fence, shape the remainder of Rosa's life--and this book.
In the sequel, Rosa, now 59 years old, has moved to Miami (a "hellish place") after literally destroying the junk shop in New York which she had owned. She lives an isolated life in a dilapidated one room apartment. Stella, who remained in New York, supports her financially, and is her primary source of contact with the outside world. A serendipitous meeting at a laundromat with a Mr. Persky, however, changes Rosa's life.
This is not to imply that there is a romanticized ending to this story--just a glimmer of hope of reconnection to the world is offered. For Rosa was still living the holocaust. As she put it--there's life before, life during (Hitler's reign) and life after--"Before is a dream. After is a joke. Only during stays." This orientation to the world is what Persky challenges.