An X-Ray of Longing

Downie, Glen

Primary Category: Literature / Poetry

Genre: Collection (Poems)

Annotated by:
Coulehan, Jack
  • Date of entry: Oct-17-2001


The first full-length collection of poetry by a Canadian medical social worker who cares for cancer patients and their families. The "longing" of the title expresses the human yearning for love, knowledge, completeness, and healing.

Many of these poems deal with the process of revealing the inner workings of the world (and the inner truth of persons) through photography; see "Darkroom: 1," in which, "I watched you emerge / take on form / and intensity." X-ray photography, of course, takes this one step further, allowing us to see the insides of bodies.

The long last section of the book includes 24 poems that deal explicitly with illness and health care. Among the best of these are "Worker Classification: Material Handler," "Hand to Mouth," "Wishbone," and a sequence of short poems called "Post-Mortem Report."


Downie brings a healing sensitivity to a wide array of personal experiences, ranging from his garden at home, through travel in third world countries, to his professional work in health care. The poet's work with cancer patients is reflected in poems like "Prosthetics," "Chances Are," and "My Garden." The latter begins with a particularly powerful image, "The soil rich / with the cancerous tongues / of men and women I've known."

The "Post-Mortem Report" sequence takes the reader down a hall, into an autopsy room, to the corpse about to be examined, and finally into the body itself. This exterior journey complements an interior journey near the end of which the poet reports, "I can hear my heart pounding."



Place Published

Winlaw, BC, Canada



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