In 1977 Marion Cohen's physicist husband, Jeffrey, was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. He was 36 years old. Cohen, a mathematician and poet and mother of four, became his chief caregiver. As her husband's illness progressed, the caregiving role became increasingly absorbing, demanding, all-encompassing. Eventually daytime attendants were hired but sometimes they didn't show up. This collection of 77 poems is a kind of journal, primarily from late 1989 through January, 1991, that chronicles Marion's ambivalent caregiving, despair, resignation, "temper tantrums," love, and compassion.


"Fantasizing This Book Reviewed" (p. 28) is a good summary of what this collection achieves: "a proof" of "how it goes"; "It calls a spade a spade". There are bathroom maneuvers, bedpans, catheters, soiled mattresses, pulling, pushing, carrying, but also love, sex, companionship. The poems are extraordinarily evocative. In "The Attendant Signs Out" "It's like we're on a desert island / and the rescuers have already come / and left, somehow, without rescuing us" (22). There are "songs of despair" where words are emotion: "Not only is something eating me / Something is sleeping me. / Something is wrapping me / Something is heating me" (38). There are love poems that anticipate loss ""You are my you . . . I am a me . . . How will it be, just this me?" ("Love Poem #2, p. 67).

This book expresses a caregiver's life at the limits of endurance, the "epsilon country" of the book's title: "I am a boundary, I am an edge" ("The Citizen," p. 13). [ "In mathematics, a small positive infinitesimal quantity, usually denoted epsilon whose limit is usually taken as epsilon->0." But the following use of epsilon mentioned at this and other Web sites may also be relevant: "The late mathematician P. Erdos also used the term "epsilons" to refer to children".]

These poems do not make comforting or comfortable reading -- they are brutally honest. But they are powerful, skillful, intelligent and make an important contribution to our understanding of the family caregiver experience, as well as to our understanding of the fallout of degenerative illness. Marion Cohen has also written a memoir of her caregiving experience, Dirty Details: The Days and Nights of a Well Spouse (see annotation).


The Center for Thanatology Research and Education: 391 Atlantic Ave., Brooklyn, NY 11217;


The Center for Thanatology Research and Education

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Brooklyn, New York



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