This stark and sensual poetry collection is divided into three sections. The first, "Graveyard Shift," introduces the narrator's themes: the keen observation of suffering; the questioning of God's role in such suffering; the way caregivers and patients meld in shared moments of trauma; the struggle to integrate the reality of death and grief into a life outside the healthcare arena.

A longer second section, "Lessons," contains a chronology of poems that broaden the poet's themes. Suffering becomes personal through sexual abuse ("The Burning"), death of a baby ("To the Woman in the Next Bed," "Waiting Room," "Last Lullaby for the Dead Child"), and breast cancer ("Keeping Watch"); the mystery of God's role becomes the narrator's religious quest.

The final section, "The Ones Who Come," opens these themes to the universal: children and adults lost to "the holocausts" of war, poverty, and illness ("Lizard Whiskey: A Parting Gift from Viet Nam," "After the Siege," "The Ones Who Come," "The Man Who Stays Sane"), and how history repeats these cycles of birth, suffering, and death.


These poems--accurate, original, and surprising--are written from a fluid point of view. At times the narrator seems to be a nurse, at other times, a surgeon; she bathes dying babies, suspends hearts in her hand, rolls the dead to the morgue. In the second section, the poet is a child, a grieving parent, and a cancer patient, effectively bringing her observation of suffering and survival full circle.

The poems are remarkable for their preciseness, immediacy and the beauty of their images--the body becomes soul as well as flesh, and readers are brought into patients' rooms as breathless observers. Outstanding poems are numerous: in addition to those mentioned are "Anatomy," "Graveyard Shift," "Warming the Blood," "Mercy," "Keeping Watch," "Perennials."


This collection was awarded the New York University Press Prize for Poetry.


New York Univ. Press

Place Published

New York



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