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Mary Oliver's six stanzas are a meditation on the processes of life and death. The narrator observes the death of a snake by a truck that "could not swerve." The occurrence of sudden death is, after all, "how it happens" and the snake now lies "looped and useless as an old bicycle tire." For most observers of this familiar sight, that would be the end. The narrator, however, stops his car and carries the cool and gleaming snake to the bushes where it is as "beautiful and quiet as a dead brother."
Upon continuing his drive, the experience generates reflection about death: its suddenness, its weight, and its certainty. At the same time the narrator notes that dying and death of others ignites a brighter fire, one of good fortune: "not me!"
The final stanza describes the innate drive and tenacity of life forces. Because life, rather than death, is at the center of each cell, unimpeded by death, the snake and all other forms of life move forward tenaciously, unimpeded by the threat of death.
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.
This chapbook consists of two parts. The first part is a sequence of 20 poems that describe the final illness and death of the author's father. He is "a man who won't die," a man who has survived the ravages of several chronic illnesses, but who now faces another surgery, "to have the toe / amputated before gangrene set in." Yet the father is finally "slipping / below the horizon." His son sits in the hospital corridor, imbibing the sights and smells of the present, while moving back and forth in his mind between the past and future.
At last his father dies. Life goes on, connection goes on. The author thinks about his son, "my son is lifting the world / on his back . . . " The second part of the chapbook is a long poem called "Kaddesh for My Father," modeled after Allen Ginsberg's Kaddish and written about a year after his father died.
Using direct address the speaker has been reading the newspaper and begins the poem, "Already you’re on Page 8," to signify the ease with which "that large animal The Public General" forgets such a horror as the beating death of the little girl, Elizabeth Steinberg. The speaker asks who will remember the child, "or consider the big fists breaking your little bones, / or consider the vague bureaucrats / stumbling, fumbling through Paper."
The speaker ruminates on why she is "sick" when she thinks of her, telling her that "We cannot help you," but that "If you are Somewhere, and sentient, / be comforted, little spirit" because she helps "us begin to hear the scream out of the twisted mouth." Elizabeth’s death will motivate the community, the speaker insists (hopes?), to "stomp into the Horror Houses, / invade the caves of the monsters."
Daniel Coulombe (Lothaire Bluteau) is engaged by a Montreal priest to improve on the parish's tired passion play. He is quietly excited by the possibility and invites a group of old friends to join him in revitalizing the ancient tale. They will stage the performance outside by torchlight on the crest of Mount Royal with the lights of the vast city flickering below. The script is modern, visceral, and engages the audience. The actors all manage to improve their life situations if not their finances: a man gives up dubbing scripts for porno movies; a woman leaves an abusive partner to become the Magdalene.
At first, the priest is pleased by their efforts, but he looses confidence and credibility when Coulombe finds he sleeps with one of the women actors. The play is a huge success, but nameless clerical authorities are disturbed by the vibrant sexuality and the avant garde performance; in the absence of support from the priest, "they" revoke the right to perform.
The defiant troupe performs anyway, hoping the police will be sympathetic. A naked Coulombe is arrested off the cross in the midst of his crucifixion scene. A scuffle ensues and he suffers an accidental head injury. Taken by ambulance to a busy hospital, he is neglected, but recovers enough to sign himself out, only to collapse in a subway station. Attended by the two dismayed and disoriented women, he is again taken to hospital where he dies.
Mohammed (Mohsen Ramezani), an eight year old blind boy attending a special school in an Iranian city waits for his widowed father (Hossein Mahjub) to bring him home to his isolated, but idyllic Iranian village for summer recess. During several interminable hours of waiting outside the school, viewers come to recognize the boy’s sensitivity to his surroundings. Through sound and feel he is at one with nature. Remarkably, he is able to rescue a vulnerable baby bird and return it to the tree branch nest from where it has fallen.
Unfortunately, Mohammed’s father fails to exhibit this kind of care with his son. The tardy reunion is painful: rather than embracing the boy, the father requests that school officials keep the boy during the recess. When the request is refused by embarrassed faculty members who are sympathetic to the child’s family needs, father and son begin the long walk, then bus ride into the distant countryside.
In contrast, Mohammed receives a warm and loving welcome from his Granny (Salime Feizi), his sisters, and the neighboring children. Immediately, the children run with him into the meadows to explore and celebrate. Clearly, this is Mohammed’s nest.
Even though Mohammed’s abilities at the local school are superior to those of his classmates and even though he is able to function in normal play with his peers, the father focuses only on the boy’s removal from the family and the village so that he can find a new wife to care for him and his other children. The unprepared boy is taken abruptly by his father to a blind carpenter many miles away where he will serve as an apprentice. Although the carpenter is kind, Mohammed is devastated by the cruel separation from Granny and the children.
Unburdened, the father goes forth with plans for another marriage, but before the arranged ceremony occurs both the heartbroken Granny and Mohammed die. The bride-to-be and her family regard these losses as unhealthy portends. Marriage plans are canceled. Only then, does the father recognize his own blindness.
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."
Summary:The narrator describes a housecall to a woman in labor. It is past midnight in winter time when the road is frozen. The doctor enters the house where the "great woman" is in misery; she is "sick," "perhaps vomiting," about to give birth to her tenth child. He exclaims to the reader "Joy! Joy!" knowing that the situation is as bleak as the wintry landscape, and, in fact, joyless. He will offer compassion and "pick the hair from her eyes."
This small chapbook consists of six relatively long poems, all dealing with the experience of nursing. "What the Nurse Likes" presents striking images and juxtapositions that turn ordinary actions into mysterious aspects of healing. In "Becoming the Patient" Cortney Davis, who is "tired of being the nurse," empathetically identifies with her patient.
"The Body Flute" sings of the body itself, "I go on loving the flesh / after you die." The nurse works with the visible parts of the body--touches, washes, inserts, and smoothes--during life and death. "At death," she concludes, "you become wholly mine."
Divided into three titled sections: "What Man Might Kill," "The Nurse's Task," and "The Body Flute," the poems in this volume detail moments in the life of a nurse who is also a mother who once [in imagination] dragged her daughter from a wrecked and burning car; a daughter who stood on the stairs and listened to her mother's voice; and a lover who is aware of how her own trained clinical gaze and the gaze of desire sometimes intersect.
The poems range from a whimsical reverse-reel footage of memories that reach back to the moment of conception in "The Smoke We Make Pictures Of" to a scene from childhood when she was rushed to the hospital and came home vowing to love like the "women in white bright enough to burn / running with me in their arms"--a love she describes as "Fierce. / Physical," to a poem that imagines the life of the murderer, to poems that let us into the intimacy of a nurse keeping vigil by the dying, cleaning shriveled bodies, attending women giving birth. "I Hear the Cries of Women" is a litany of memories of "Women in the clinic waiting room" who "wanted to please / wanted to be whole / had no choice / couldn't speak / wasn't heard."
Stark and striking, these poems revel in language that calls suffering by its many names. They alter the distances we keep on pain, reframe what we are repelled by and honor the gritty, sometimes gory work of nurses who are willing to imagine the lives of their patients and lean close over the stink of decay to bless the dying.