Veneta Masson's latest poetry collection is a clinician's guide not to illness and disease but to the souls touched by illness, both the patient's and the caregiver's. In 45 poems, she reviews her life in caregiving, from her early days in nursing to her work as a nurse practitioner in a community clinic and finally to her decision to use her hands "to write and to bless" (p. 93). Her poems are enhanced by the artwork of Rachel Dickerson, whose woodcuts and etchings are paired with poems to provide another voice, another way of looking into the soul of caregiving. For an example of this wonderful pairing, see the print that accompanies "The Screamer in Room 4" (p. 24). The print allows us to see the frustration of the screaming child, the child's mother, and the caregiver.

As always, Masson's poems center on the patient-caregiver experience; in this volume, as we follow her through her various adventures in nursing we also travel with her through the changes she has witnessed in healthcare and the politics that continue to affect its delivery. "Rx" (p. 22) examines Medicare and Medicaid and the political decisions that often deny medications to the elderly who need them most. "Gold Standard" (p.34) looks again at medicine and money, juxtaposing the medical pill against the placebo of the caring healer. One of my favorite poems, "The Doctor's Laptop" (p. 40) laments how technology might deprive patients of the doctor's time, attention and touch.

Other themes that are central to this collection are the unexpected presence of humor in caregiving (see "Conga! at the Rio," page 50), of spirituality (see especially "Rescue," page 36, "Refuge," page 45, and "Prevention," page 82), and of the personal. In several moving poems Masson looks at her own sister's death and her reaction to it, writing about her conflicting roles as sister and nurse (see, among others, "Matinee," "Hilda and Snow White," and "The Nurse's Job," pages 70, 72 and 74). In an excellent final poem, "Winter Count," Masson takes us through her own nursing history, a chronicle of work, joy, disappointment and survival that any caregiver will recognize.


There are many things that I admire about Veneta Masson's writing. Among them are her wonderful use of imagery and her lovely phrases, such as "Nurses keep a safe house hidden / in the spaciousness of imagination" (p. 26); "What balm is there / in this violent Gilead / to make the wounded whole? / I know no cure / and all I have is breath / a voice / and memory--" (p. 29); and "among the stone pages / of this sprawling book of lives" (p. 37). I admire too how she can capture, in very few words, the inner agonies of caregiving (see "Guilt," page 30) and also its transcendence ("La Muerte," page 76). Most of all, I am always impressed by the beauty of Masson's books. They are interesting to read and to hold; they are always a different and perhaps unexpected size; they are designed artistically and colorfully and printed beautifully, which serves not only to honor the poems but also to honor the patients and the caregivers in the poems. This volume is a gem, both in poem and picture and in the physical book itself.


Sage Femme Press

Place Published

Washington, D.C.



Page Count