The first poem in this chapbook ("Sonogram") contains two images of a small, mysterious life (the fetus imagined as a "white boat on whiter water" and as a "tiny orca") in the midst of the coldly technical medical world. This juxtaposition is characteristic of B. A. St. Andrews's poems in this small collection. In most of them, she uses disciplined and sparkling language to explore the interface between modern medicine with its impersonal machinery and the irreducible mystery of life.

Some of the images are simply breathtaking. For example, in "A Dying Art: Room 309," a terminally ill artist lies in bed, surrounded by "plastic bags that hang / like udders dripping pigment / into her." In a love poem called "The Body of Science," the poet confesses, "Each time your voluntary / muscles make contact / my involuntary ones / contract." And at the end of "Alzheimer's," she observes, "She stood at the big bay / window screaming but he never / heard what it was she never said."

The four poems entitled "Your Breast a Unicorn" consider the fate of breasts attacked "at consolation's center" by "one aberrant cell metastasized." These learned, wise, and witty poems are, in my opinion, among the very best of the breast cancer genre.


One outstanding feature of B. A. St. Andrews's poems is their rightness--every word, every image seems just right. There is nothing lacking, nothing left over. I've already mentioned the striking images. Another characteristic feature is the classical or mythical allusion--Cleopatra's asp, the unicorn, the goddess Kali, the Sibyl, Socrates' cup, Ulysses, Gilgamesh, and a Roman gladiator.

Other cultural references include a Mondrian line, an O'Keefe flower, and "two fauns / nestled in Debussy's dream." These allusions are accessible and well placed. There is also a surprising amount of humor in this collection, especially in "Transplant Man" and "Your Breast a Unicorn" (the second of these poems, which runs circles around the common statement "I lost a breast," is simply hilarious).

In addition to the poems listed above, Alzheimer's, "Slow Code Blue: DNR," and Oncological Cocktails might also be useful in the Literature and Medicine context.


Chapbook available for purchase from the author. (Bonnie St. Andrews, Ph.D., Center for Bioethics and Humanities, Upstate Medical University, College of Medicine, 725 Irving Avenue, Suite 406, Syracuse, NY 13210; FAX: (315) 464-5407)


Silverman Review Press

Place Published

Syracuse, N.Y.



Page Count