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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."
Summary:When he was dying of / everything, the poet has a dream in which she, too, became diseased and "knew myself." As her friend "got cadaverous and sore," she became more devoted to him. After he dies she asks, "What's / dead? What's dead?" The second part of the poem shifts focus to a circus where a dressed-up elephant defecates as he is performing a trick. Oblivious to what is happening, the elephant continues his act while the audience snickers and laughs. [61 lines]
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."
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.
A family's tragic event--the death of two teenage boys in a car accident--is both the stimulus for a mother's abandonment of her husband and daughter and an ongoing thread weaving its way throughout the rest of this immense story (537 pages) told in three major parts.
Part 1 (1958) is the story of Marion and Ted Cole and their four-year-old daughter Ruth. Struggling to keep afloat in her grief-filled life, Marion is a beautiful, 39-year-old woman who, with her husband Ted, a hugely successful children's author/illustrator, lives an elegant life on Long Island. The focus of Part 1 is Marion's affair with Eddie, a 17-year-old hired by Ted to be his personal assistant but who turns out to be part babysitter to Ruth, and "companion" to Marion. This part of the story is sexy and comic, even as it is full of relentless grief.
Part 2 (1990) finds Ruth as a hugely successful novelist in her thirties. Her life is one long unending string of "bad" boyfriends, and one long question regarding how her mother could abandon her and why she fails to reappear. While in Amsterdam on a book tour, she comes up with the idea for a new book that takes her to the storefront prostitution district of the city, where her authorial curiosity and adventure is met with violence. In this section of the book she marries her agent, has a baby, and seems to be finding contentment for the first time in her life.
Part 3 (1995) occurs four years later, when Ruth as a 41-year-old widow and mother, falls in love. The story comes together finally with the reappearance of Marion Cole, now in her seventies and herself a moderately successful author who had been living quietly alone in Canada.
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.
The second film in Oliver Stone’s Vietnam trilogy, "Born on the Fourth of July" is based on the autobiography of Ron Kovic (played in the film by Tom Cruise), a good kid whose patriotism takes him to Vietnam in the late 1960s and brings him back home paralyzed from the chest down and burdened with the guilt of having accidentally killed a fellow soldier in combat. Living at home with his parents, Ron struggles fiercely with these challenges against the exacerbating background of his culture’s anti-war and anti-vet sentiments.
Things get bad for him, he gets very angry and leaves home for Mexico to forget it all with booze, drugs, and prostitutes. That false paradise eventually fails him, however, and he returns to the States and makes some positive moves, including visiting the parents of the soldier he had killed. He winds up being a spokesman for vets, anti-war ones in particular, and at the end he is wheeling himself out onto the stage of the Democratic Convention of 1976 to huge applause, feeling, as he has just said to a reporter offstage, "I’m home."
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.
Dr Bernard Rieux (William Hurt) says good-bye to his ailing wife at the Oran airport in South America. Their only child is dead. She has gone to the distant capital for tests and he plans to join her in a few days. But a mysterious epidemic of rats and what turns out to be bubonic plague breaks out. The city is sealed by draconian authorities who separate family members and drag people from their homes. Rieux decides to stay; months pass and his wife will die before he can see her again.
He befriends two stranded French journalists, Martine (Sandrine Bonnaire) and Tanto (Jean-Marc Harr), who volunteer as aides. They visit Joseph Grand (Robert Duvall) who keeps the cemetery statistics and writes an interminable novel. Tanto and Grand contract the disease but manage to survive under Rieux's care.
Constantly palpating her body in fear, Martine is desperate to flee, even as she strives to evoke passion from the emotionally numb Rieux. She is robbed and incarcerated by Cottard (Raul Julia) an unscrupulous profiteer. As the epidemic wanes, the journalists, the doctor, and Grand are reunited, but in that same instant Cottard shoots Tanto dead. Rieux and Martine are left sobbing in each others arms.