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Without is Donald Hall's thirteenth book of poems. It was written in memory of his wife, the poet, Jane Kenyon, who died of leukemia in their New Hampshire home at the age of 47. Interspersed among the poems in the first half of this book is a major poem, "Her Long Illness." Following that poem is the title poem.
Without is followed by a series of poems, titled as letters ("Midsummer Letter," "Letter After a Year," etc.) that chronicle Hall's grief and his attempt to go on living--without his wife. The final poem in the collection, "Weeds and Peonies," places speaker and reader in Kenyon's garden a year after her death and ends as we see her "peonies lean their vast heads westward / as if they might topple. Some topple."
The apparent "subject" of Reynolds Price's novel, The Promise of Rest, is HIV/AIDS, yet it is also a novel of family, marriage, father-son relationships, and friendship between men--in addition to one of caring, suffering, and the unspeakable pain of parents watching their child die. The novel opens with Wade Mayfield, a thirty-two year-old gay, white architect infected with AIDS reluctantly returning from New York City to his family home in North Carolina to live out his final months. Almost blind, unable to manage even with daily visits from caregivers, he allows his father Hutch to come to New York to close the apartment that he shared with his African-American lover, Wyatt, who infected Wade and committed suicide ten weeks prior to Wade's leaving.
Once home, the story becomes a long conversation between Wade and Hutch. Interspersed in that most loving, painful, sometimes joyful, intense conversation on the way to Wade's death is emotional haggling between Hutch and Ann, Wade's mother and Hutch's ex-wife, who feels denied a role in the care of her only child; the continuing conversation between Hutch and Straw, his best and oldest friend with whom he had a physically intimate relationship years before and with whom he is still strongly connected; the dailiness of students (Hutch is a literature professor); finding help with the caregiving; and trying to understand the story of Wade's life before he returned home that has potentially great bearing on the Mayfield family even after Wade's death. The novel closes with Wade's death and the days thereafter, a death that fulfilled Wade's "undaunted determination to die as himself."
Second Son chronicles the changes in family relationships that follow disclosure of a son's AIDS. The father's initial response reveals unexamined attitudes that complicate the supportive response he'd like to give. Father and son are brought into unfamiliar and unwelcome intimacy, the former wanting to "fight it," the latter wanting to turn inward, accept his condition and decide how to live out his life.
Father and son find that they handle sickness in much the same way they have handled the other aspects of their divergent lives. A new lover, who also has AIDS, finally provides what the family, tragically, cannot. The story highlights confusions about what family members owe one another and makes clear how the families of the sick need to be healed if they are to become healing communities.
Summary:This book is a collection of photographs of patients and their family members, caregivers, administrators, and others in an Oregon nursing home. Photographs are accompanied by commentaries by the subjects, who talk about their lives, their suffering, their work, their survival.
This first collection of poems includes a series of strong and well-crafted personal narratives. Several deal with the poet's experience in nurse's training. For example, in "Down There" she recalls childhood baths when she would squat and pour a jug of warm water between her legs ("down there") as she washes post-operative women and thinks of the intensely poetic hospital questions, "Can you make wind? / Can you make water?"
In "We Were Gulls" she visualizes the nursing students on Ward Nine and evokes their encounter with a repulsive old man who said, "there isn't a one of you / I wouldn't give a squeeze to / if I could hold you / in my arms / right here in this bed." In "In the Hospital Garden" she recalls the titillating episode of a doctor's wife who gave birth to a "radiation mutation."
But the poet's nursing is not confined to the professional sphere--in "Madame Abundance" she speaks of her son's "string of drool" against her own "milk-dampened blouse of the breast." Poems like "Night Terror," "The Street Where We Lived," and "At the Horse Pavilion" bring the reader into the love and pain of family life. "How long will it last?" the poet asks in one of her poems. In another she answers, "I live alone / I live alone / I live alone / I live alone."
Linda Bishop tells the story of her early years as a nursing student. She soon realizes that she doesn't actually want to be a nurse, but she continues in training, "waiting for some unspeakable horror that I could hold up to the light to prove to myself that the hospital was a truly monstrous place."
While Linda is quiet and sexually inexperienced, her first roommate, Holly Bostwick (Boss), is reputed to have a sensational sexual history and to be afflicted with syphilis. When Linda brings Holly home for Thanksgiving, Linda's mother is impressed with her daughter's new friend, a young woman much more confident and articulate than ambivalent Linda.
Somewhat later, after Boss becomes engaged to a gas station owner, Linda returns by train from visiting her parents. She is determined to make a final decision. She lists what she hates about the hospital and what she likes about it. Will she leave or will she stay?
Stella is the wife of Max Raphael, the deputy superintendent of a maximum security psychiatric hospital near London (based perhaps on Broadmoor, where the author's father was medical superintendent), and mother of a ten-year-old son. She becomes involved in an obsessive sexual affair with one of the institution's patients, Edgar Stark, a schizophrenic sculptor institutionalized after murdering and decapitating his wife.
Stark uses his affair with Stella to escape, and she runs away to London to join him. After a few passionate but squalid weeks in hiding, Edgar's illness resurfaces, evinced both in the violence he shows to a sculpture he's making of Stella's head, and in his paranoid jealousy. She runs away from him and is captured by the police and returned her to her husband, who has been fired because of his wife's role in the escape of so dangerous an inmate.
The family moves to a remote hospital in North Wales, where Max has a minor position, and Stella becomes severely depressed, to the extent that she stands by helplessly as her son dies in an accidental drowning. As a result, she is institutionalized--she returns to the hospital, not as the superintendent's wife, but as a patient. Edgar has meanwhile been recaptured (in North Wales, seeking out Stella either to take her with him or to kill her), but they never meet again, for Stella commits suicide.
The narrator of this long, lyrical musing is a psychiatrist who works with autistic children. Though much of the narrative is a reflection on her mid-life relationship with a journalist lover who risks death to report on places in political turmoil, her observations about her patients provide a recurrent motif and reference point.
Several long passages detail the fascination and frustration involved in working with her young patients, what she has learned from them about limits, patience, and the semiotics of autism. She also reflects on how that learning has allowed her to understand "normal" people differently. One of the subtle but strong themes of the story is the question of what "normal" means.
A secondary focus is her close attachment to her two grown sons. This is developed through memories of particular scenes of their childhood that she identifies as bonding moments. Another focus is her relationship with her mother, now dwindling into mental incompetence and squalor in her old age. Thinking about these relationships, with lover, sons, mother and patients, is a way of taking stock of how the strands of her life have brought her to a place of qualified peace in mid-life.
Stonecrop: Poems January 1987 to May 1989, the first of two sections in Rhea Tregebov's collection, is a series of poems about loss and potential loss, especially concerning her son's life-threatening asthma. In "Vital Signs" she writes, "When we almost lost him, I almost lost myself."
Later, when her son's condition had stabilized, she writes in "Runt," "We can hope to break the cycle." More than two years later, the poet rejoices in her son's growth as he says "Bony" while "turning his head against the hard nest of my shoulders" ("Respite").
Other poems in this series are eloquent responses to other personal losses. As Rhea Tregebov writes in "Sleep," "it is the dust of stars I touch, the dust of cold brilliant stars / we somehow are." "Faith in the Weather," the book's second section, contains poems dealing with a variety of other topics. From a literature and medicine point of view, "How We Know the Animals" and "The Right Thing" are particularly noteworthy.
In 1877, Richard Maurice Bucke (1837-1902) (Colm Feore) becomes the superintendent of the asylum in London Ontario, where physical restraints are used. His lovely but tense wife (Wendel Meldrum) is grudgingly deferential to his professional needs. They are parents of a happy little girl. Bucke travels to a Philadelphia conference to read a paper on his liberal ideas about care of the mentally ill, but he senses the intolerance of the audience and storms out.
An odd "free thinker" in the audience--who turns out to be the great American poet Walt Whitman (Rip Torn)--admired the paper. Whitman invites the doctor to meet his mentally disturbed brother kept at home rather than in an asylum. Smitten with Whitman and his philosophy, Bucke brings him to Canada.
At first, his wife and the town are suspicious of the famous stranger, but they gradually change their minds. The asylum replaces its coercive methods of care with exercise, music, and talk. The film closes with a lively summer cricket match between the asylum (patients and workers) and the town.