Reading Guide: Medical Humanities Part 3, Denouement

Medical Humanities Curriculum

The experience of illness is both universal and specific. Each of us will at some time become a patient—experience an illness or disability that may be acute or chronic, mild or life-threatening.  All of us will experience sickness and death of a loved one. Some of us—doctors, nurses and other medical professionals—interact with illness from “both sides of the stethoscope.” The impact of illness on us as individuals, in our relationships to one another and in the broader socio-political context cannot be underestimated. 

Illness narratives, stories and poems that bring these issues to light provide a useful teaching tool. This reading guide is based on The Best of the Bellevue Literary Review, published by the Bellevue Literary Press. These readings provide a framework for considering the illness experience from a variety of perspectives.  This reading guide will be useful for teachers of literature, ethics, medical/nursing students, social workers, as well as for health care professionals, adult continuing education courses, general reading groups, and anyone interested in thinking more deeply about literature of the human body.

Part 1–Initiation–includes sections on Patients, Doctors, Coming of Age.
Part 2–Conflict: Grappling with Illness–includes sections on Disability, Coping, Madness, Connections, Family.
Part 3–Denouement–includes sections on Mortality, Death, Loss, Aftermath

Written by: Danielle Ofri , Ruth Oratz , Harold Horowitz,  Jerome Lowenstein , Suzanne McConnell , Frances Richey, Kathryn Coffman , Marylu Ekiert , Meghan Holeman



Living Will by Holly Posner

  1. Does the “doctor” conversation differ from conversations about very old age and death that any serious older adults might have?
  2. “‘First do no harm’ circles its wagons.”  Who is threatened?  What is the threat?  Who is on the inside and who on the outside, of this circle, at this dinner table?
  3. If you were the poet’s husband, would you help load her pockets, when it’s time?  Write your own response.  Write the response from the point of view of the husband in the poem. 
  4. The title of the poem is “Living Will.”  What is a living will?  Is the phrase an oxymoron?  Do you or any of your loved ones have a living will?  What is the difference between a living will and the assistance in dying that the poet refers to in alluding to Virginia Woolf, who famously loaded her pockets with stones in order to drown?
  5. This is a narrative poem.  It tells a story.  There’s a conflict, a turning point, a resolution.  What does the narrator do that is unusual for her, in this circle?   

Studies in the Subjunctive by Ruthann Robson

  1. What is the relation between the narrator and Anne Sexton?  Does the narrator identify with her?  Or does she reflect upon Anne Sexton in relation to other people in her life?  
  2. How does time, the narrator’s memories, her projections into past, present and future, operate in this piece, especially in relation to the theme of grammar?  
  3. What is the role of grammar in this piece?  Does it stand for anything beyond itself?  Is it a marker for a discussion of something else?  If so, what?  
  4. The narrator refers to the dictionary throughout the piece.  What role does the dictionary play?  
  5. There are various instances throughout of different people in different situations confronting suicide.  How do they relate to each other?  What do they mean for the narrator?  How are they positioned in relation to other forms of death or ways of meeting death?
  6. Is this piece meant to take the form of a letter?  To whom is it addressed?     
  7. What role did the World Trade Center attack play in her thinking?
  8. Is this “overintellectualized”?

To a Child Contemplating Suicide by Helen Klein Ross

  1. What purposes does the comparison to the grandfather’s outlined tools serve in the poem?
  2. This poem is spare.  How does that contribute to the poem’s impact?  To your sense of the poet?
  3. The poem consists of two sentences, arranged on the page in couplets. In what ways does this visual layout contribute to its effect?  Try rearranging it.
  4. What phrases or words leap out at you?  Choose one, and write for 10-20 minutes without thinking or stopping, letting your pen take you where it goes.
  5. Respond in writing, as if you were the child contemplating suicide, to the poet’s appeal.  

Art by Eric Nelson

  1. What are the difference between the mother’s drawing and the son’s?  What do they reveal about the attitudes of each toward the son’s terminal illness?
  2. Using crayons, draw this boy and this mother.  Illustrate any part of the poem you choose, or illustrate the “story” of the poem, the changes that occur from beginning to end, using a comic-book or film-making storyboard technique of consecutive frames. 
  3. There’s a tendency of adults to think they should shield children from unpleasant truths.  Comment on this.  Recall a time in your childhood that this poem conjures up.  Recall an incident as an adult interacting with a child that this brings to mind.   
  4. Nowhere in this poem is the child’s diagnosis revealed.  It is in present tense.  And time is referred to without using the word “time.”  How does each of these factors contribute to the impact of the poem?
  5. What line in this poem is the most moving to you?  Why?  

A Roomful of Christmas by Scott Temple

  1. How does the “room full of Christmas” help Bobbie? 
  2. Was the psychologist encouraging denial?
  3. Does Bobbie help the narrator?  How?  
  4. What role do the hospital politics and struggles play in the story, in Bobbie’s life and death?  How do they affect the narrator and his view of the situation?

 “Silence = Death” by Rafael Campo

  1. Do you remember seeing this slogan, Silence=Death?  What did it mean? Why was this slogan used?  Is it relevant now?
  2. Investigate the word “count,” including its variations, in this poem.  List the number of times it is used.  Take a look at who counts. 
  3. Similarly, check out the usage of words about speaking and language, and also words about silence. 
  4. “…one left me this stupid T-shirt when he died,” the patient says. The poet himself wonders, at the poem’s beginning, why the t-shirt still threatens him.  Why does it?

The Raft by Toni Mirosevich

  1. Do you believe that aging is characterized by progressive jettisoning of friends and family from “the raft”?
  2. Are we all ultimately alone on “the raft”?  Is there another way?
  3. Are there ways in which you have shared this “shedding”?
  4. Unpack the meaning(s) of the extended metaphor of the raft.  What does it mean to be pushed off the raft?  What does it mean to stay on?  What does it mean to have the raft collapse beneath you?  
  5. How is “being adrift” reflected in the content and the setting of the conceit? Is it successful or not?
  6. What philosophical life questions does this narration set out to answer?  What do we know about the narrator’s actual state of “being”?
  7. What effect does the writer’s use of the second person have on the reader’s conception of the subject matter?
  8. What are the successive stages of this trip on the raft?  What are the criteria by which people are pushed off?  
  9. What perspective does this trip on the raft grant to aspects of life that are traditionally considered normal and absolute, such as hierarchy, responsibility, (“carrying” and “being carried,”) love, and pain?  
  10. In the course of this journey on the raft, do “you” change?  How?
  11. How does time operate in this piece?  How is it represented?    

A Widow at 93 by Andrew Merton

  1. A shiv, according to the dictionary, is “a knife or razor, especially used as a weapon.”  Pronounce the word “survive” with a soft ‘v’ sound; now pronounce it like a shiv.
  2. What is a transitive verb?   
  3. Imagine this poet is at the dinner table along with the doctor’s wife in the poem “Living Will.”  Imagine what he might contribute to the conversation.  Write pieces of his dialogue to fit into that poem.
  4. The widow has lost more than her husband.  At 93, she has also lost a brother, and a son.  Anyone living into very old age will suffer such losses. What is the toll of such loss?  Are there other ways to survive that toll besides “dying slowly”? Does this differ from people surviving loss of loved ones in war or catastrophe?

Morning at Fifty by Alan L. Steinberg

  1. The opening paragraphs outline the stages Ebstein goes through, each time he drives to visit his father.  Less clearly delineated, there are also three stages he goes through whenever he first sees his father.  What do these stages have in common? 
  2. Ebstein describes several residents who live in the nursing home. What do his descriptions have in common?
  3. At those times when Ebstein’s father doesn’t recognize him, Ebstein feels “insubstantial, as if he were without weight and substance” (251).  Recall a time when someone you care about acted as if you weren’t there, didn’t acknowledge your existence.  How did you feel?
  4. Imagine Ebstein’s father could speak.  What might he say to Ebstein’s desire for him to be the father he once knew?
  5. Sam’s sentences repeat like a refrain.  Ebstein calls them “nonsensical” but although inarticulate and in the background, they clearly make sense.  Write them as one continuing sentence.  Examine the author’s pacing of them.
  6. How does the title resonate to you?


His Own Time by John Thompson

  1. The narrator “does his time” by reading, others by walking.  How does Larry do his time?
  2. Institutions have their own habits and mores.  A prison is an institution.  A hospital is an institution.  Are there any similarities?  
  3. “It ought to be a private thing, at the very least done at night time.”  What does the narrator mean by this?  What does this have to do with his feelings and the others’ towards Larry’s act?
  4. What common attitudes among medical personnel prevail in regard to patient behavior? How might one community of medical personnel approve or disapprove of the behavior of another such community (nurses, aides, doctors)? 
  5. Describe an instance in your own experience when you might have stopped another person from speaking or acting self-destructively.    
  6. In an article about suicide on the Golden Gate Bridge, an impatient driver halted because of a suicide attempt, wishes the suicide “would just go ahead and do it.” Recall an instance when you felt impatient towards someone in a similar way, whether anonymously as in the instance cited here, or more personally, as in the story.
  7. Who do you think is responsible for Larry’s death? 
  8. If you were Morgan, how would you respond?  If you were the narrator, what would you say?  And if you were Larry, how would you answer?  Using first person, (“I”), write responses in each one’s voice.
  9. How would the story be altered if the “bookend” scenes (which take place in the present) were removed? 
  10. Could this have occurred outside a prison setting?  How does the fact that this incident occurs in a prison setting affect what happens? 

The Accident by Gray Jacobik

  1. How does the author use images of light and dark to advance her investigation of the active process of dying?
  2. What effect does the bird coming down the aisle preceded by her flower girls have on you near the end of the poem?  How does it enhance and deepen the meaning of the line before it: “The unexpected comes preceded by its irreversibility…”
  3. What does the poet mean in the last line when she calls death “an absolute union”?  What images come to your mind when you think of death?  How many different ways does the poet refer to death in the poem?
  4. Notice what words are repeated throughout the poem.  How does the repetition of a word enhance the poems meaning and rhythm?
  5. What do you believe happens as a person is dying?  Do you believe there is light at the end of a tunnel or that you will be escorted “home”?
  6. Have you been with someone at the time of their death?  Does this poem make it easier or harder for you to think about death?

Helicopters by Elinor Benedict

  1. Compare and contrast phrases like “pay dearly,” “blasting rattle,” and “red gape of wounds,” with “the land rolls out its green carpet,” “bees hum in white tamuka blooms,” and “honey so fine that hospitals swear by its healing.”  What feeling do these images juxtaposed evoke?  How do they contribute to the layering and complexity of the poem?
  2. What does the poet mean by the words “Life wasting?”  How many layers of meaning can you think of for these words?
  3. Find other examples where the poem juxtaposes a peaceful image with a violent or opposite image.
  4. In your own life, think of a moment when you felt opposing feelings at the same time.  What were the circumstances?  What images would you use to describe that moment?  What was it like?
  5. What images evoke sound in the poem?  How many different sounds do you find in the poem?  How are they related to each other?  How do they build on each other?
  6. How does the speaker struggle with the noise of the helicopter and her thoughts?
  7. What is your favorite line in the poem?

Breathing by Cortney Davis

  1. Exposition in fiction is defined as the presentation of information essential to the dramatic situation that will unfold.  At one point in the story, it says “incongruities floated into his mind when he was tired…” (259).  In what ways does the author use exposition to prepare the reader as well as to show Peter’s readiness to learn what Irene has to teach him?
  2. Have you ever seen anyone in a coma?  Did it seem to you that they were dead or alive?  What were your feelings?  What did you notice about how others regarded that person?
  3. Throughout this story, the author describes Peter’s physical sensations.  Note each of these instances.  Note changes in his physical state.  How does the author use these to show Peter’s emotional discomfort as well as engagement?
  4. Irene is matter-of-fact and seasoned.  She knows the stages of dying and its physical symptoms. She’s also kind and tired.  What kinds of things does she teach Peter, unobtrusively? How does she go about involving Peter?  
  5. Peter wonders why Irene bothers to care for Mr. Harris, why she doesn’t just sit and knit instead, like many nurses he sees.  She supplies a brief answer.  Write a paragraph or two in her voice, giving a full response.  Write another paragraph or two in the voice of a nurse who does just sit and knit.
  6. Irene observes that most nurses and aides have witnessed the exact moment of someone’s death.  Many doctors, she says, have not.  What is she implying about the medical hierarchy and patient-doctor intimacy?  What might she be suggesting to Peter?
  7. Breathing is the first and last act in life, as well as the title of this story.  Write about Peter’s joining in the breathing at the end of the story.  How is it an act of initiation, of birth? Think of it in relation to the following quote from Sharon Olds’ poem, “The Last Day”: “I laid my head on the bed in the path of his breath and breathed it.” (From The Father, Knopf, 1992)
  8. Write a letter as Peter might write to his mother or closest friend about what happened to him that night.
  9. In fiction, the idea is to show, rather than tell directly.  At the very end of the story, when Mr. Harris is in the final effort of dying, there is the following dialogue:

“Are you okay?” Peter asked.
“Not really,” Irene said.  “Are you?”

What comment is the author making about being “seasoned” regarding death?

Cemetery Plums by Jim Tolan

  1. Do you agree with the speaker’s assumption that the dead miss life more than we miss them?  Do you believe the dead miss life at all?  Do you believe in an afterlife?
  2. How would you describe your concept or belief about existence or absence of existence of the dead?
  3. How does the poem use images to bring a “life” to the dead?  Which of these images stand out for you?
  4. Do you think it is a positive or a negative to miss the things of this life after you are dead?
  5. Aside from your beliefs about death, what do you hope death is like?
  6. Imagine what circumstances might cause someone to write this poem.  Do you think this kind of writing can be healing to the writer?

The Long Journey Home by James Tate

  1. How does the speaker draw you into this poem right away?
  2. This is a prose poem.  How does it differ from straight prose?  How does it differ from a poem that is not a prose poem?
  3. Why do you think Jeannie “freezes” when the deceased customer touches her hand?  How do you feel about touching a corpse?
  4. Why does Jeannie prefer the company of the dead man?
  5. How do the apologies near the end of the poem work to advance its meaning?  Count the moments in the poem that show awkwardness.  Notice the moments that make you smile.  How do awkwardness and humor help to make the poem work?  What feelings do they evoke when used together?
  6. How do reality and un-reality or surrealism work in the poem?  Find moments of irony in the poem.
  7. How does the speaker make this improbable story seem real?  What feelings do the last two lines evoke?
  8. Do you know people in your own life who could be described as ‘the walking dead?”  Do you ever feel that way?
  9. This poem might be considered surreal.  Can you think of conversations and encounters in your life that seemed surreal?  How did you react to those situations?


The Weight of Absence by Judy Katz

  1. How does the speaker use weight and lightness to give the reader her experience of her mother’s death?  Which images give a sense of heaviness?  Weightlessness?
  2. Which images call to family and relationships?  Which objects that once belonged to the mother are identified in the poem?  How do those objects call up the lost one’s absence and presence? Which one touches you the most?
  3. What do you think the speaker means when she uses the words “sank” and “sinking?”  What else in the poem is sinking besides the house?
  4. Morphine allows the mother to travel through different times/memories in her life.  Have you ever had medication that caused that reaction?  What was that experience like for you?
  5. The mother is relieved of physical pain by the morphine.  The speaker, in contrast, experiences pain in witnessing her mother dying.  What techniques does the poem use to make the reader recognize, and possibly feel that irony?
  6. How does the author use spacing, line breaks and sounds of certain words to express her grief and allow the reader to feel it as well?
  7. The speaker addresses her dead mother directly.  How would the poem be different if she had told the story without addressing the mother directly?  How would the effect of the poem be different if it were written in the third person?  Do you ever speak to loved ones who have died?  

…Divorced, Beheaded, Survived by Robin Black

  1. The narrator talks about “ways we protect our children” (275).  What are some ways we do this? Are these ways helpful or harmful?
  2. “As soon as we learned Terry was sick, my house stopped being the daily gathering place” (276).  Why do people shun the sick? Why do doctors and nurses pay fewer visits to the rooms of dying patients?
  3. The narrator speculates about how their friends lives might, or might not, have been influenced by her brother’s death. What is the significance, if any, to such speculation? Is it self-centered?
  4. The narrator talks about no longer thinking about her brother’s death. “It isn’t only the discomfort of disloyalty I feel; it’s the fact of utter disappearance after death. The idea that as loved as we may be, we may also be forgotten” (277).  Is this a true statement? Is the narrator a nihilist? Does this belief impact how we live our lives? How we deliver medical care?
  5. Is the section on Anne Boleyn used strictly as a memory of the brother, or might it be a metaphor? Does the title have significance?
  6. Does this piece feel like fiction or nonfiction? Why?

In Suicide’s Tracks by Lisa Rosen

  1. Why does this poem start with the reference to solstice?
  2. How many different phrases and images in the poem indicate or evoke depression without actually using the word depression?
  3. How would you describe the mood of the speaker?
  4. What are your personal beliefs about suicide?  How would you respond to a suicidal loved one or patient?  What questions would you ask?  What actions would you take?
  5. What feelings did this poem evoke in you?
  6. If the title had not included the word “suicide,” would you have known the poem was about a suicide?
  7. What words call to each other through the poem?  Example:  “more light,” “beam,” “luminarias,” etc.
  8. What does the line “with a weight of mothers behind us,” evoke for you?
  9. What line or image stands out the most for you?
  10. What would you guess the relationship to be between the speaker and the one who has committed suicide?
  11. How do the sounds in the poem give it mood and rhythm?

Apartment 1-A by Amy Mehringer

  1. How do you feel about the experience of “voyeurism” that the narrator conveys in the story? Is there any parallel here with a doctor interviewing or examining a patient?
  2. In both “Apartment 1-A” and “Her Last Week in Their Paradise” there is the experience of going through another’s possessions. In what ways are these experiences similar or different?
  3. The narrator wonders why the tenant, who didn’t know the narrator or his wife, came to the funeral and squeezed his hand. Why do people attend funerals of people they don’t know well? Is it selfless? Self-serving?
  4. The narrator talks about the scent of his wife and of his tenant, and of the feel of a woman’s clothes. Why are the senses of smell and touch so powerful?
  5. Last line: Why does the winter seem “as if it will last forever” (283)?
  6. Why does this piece feel more clearly like fiction, whereas “…Divorce, Beheaded, Survived” feels a bit like nonfiction?

First Anniversary by Joan Michelson

  1. What do you think the speaker means by the line: “I have to fight your death…”?
  2. How does the speaker use time to heighten the feeling in the poem and the effect of this death on the speaker?
  3. What battle is the speaker losing?
  4. Which three words in this poem stand out for you as key words vis-à-vis the poem’s meaning?
  5. As you read the poem, what did you guess the relationship to be between the speaker and the deceased?
  6. Identify all the different parts of the body referred to in the poem.  Which stand out for you?  Why?
  7. If you read just the last word in each line in order, how much of the story told in the poem would you be able to discern?
  8. What is the mood of the speaker?
  9. Think about the references to winning and losing.  Why do you think the speaker uses these words?  What do they tell you about how the speaker is handling the death of this person?

Her Last Week in Their Paradise by Elaine Schear

  1. Is the cleaning out of a dead person’s house a metaphor for “dealing with” that person’s death?
  2. Are there moral differences between throwing out, selling, and donating a dead person’s items?
  3. There is a slight tinge of embarrassment on the part of the narrator, upon the “exposure” of her parents’ possessions? Why is this? What do you think about it?
  4. Many of the material possessions that people work so hard to acquire turn out to be a burden to their children. Is this a paradox?
  5. In both “Apartment 1-A” and “Her Last Week in Their Paradise” there is the experience of going through another’s possessions. In what ways are these experiences similar or different?
  6. Is there sometimes guilt on the part of the family member, when realizing that the nurse aide has had more direct and intimate contact with the patient than he or she has had?
  7. Does this piece feel like fiction or nonfiction? Why?

How Snow Arrives by Michael Collier

  1. How many different generations are included in this poem?  What event connects them?
  2. What does the image of snow evoke?  In the line “How frail the weather…” what else does the word frail refer to indirectly in the poem?
  3. Which images and sounds give this poem its haunting quality?
  4. Certain words and images are repeated through the poem.  Identify them.  What effect do these repetitions have on the poem?  How do they deepen its meaning?
  5. Have you had a similar experience, or witnessed something similar in your family?
  6. Why does the speaker keep coming back to “singing”?  Read the poem out loud and then to yourself.  Does it have a different effect on you when you read it out loud versus reading it to yourself?
  7. What colors come to your mind as you read the poem?  What additional pictures come into your mind as you read the poem?  Notice what your imagination adds to the poem; what you project onto it.  Explore how the poet, in a few words, is able to create worlds.

Medicine Chest by Amanda Auchter

  1. What event does this poem allude to?
  2. What is the mood of this poem?
  3. The title is “Medicine Chest.”  How is the word chest repeated in the poem?  What different meanings does it have?  How do the different images for chest relate to each other?
  4. How does the image of the mirror work in the poem?  What images “mirror” each other?
  5. Which image or line stands out for you?  Why?
  6. In a poem, every word counts.  Which words in this poem build on the feeling of absence and loss without actually saying the words “absence” and “loss”?


First Steps by Floyd Skloot

  1. How does the shape of this poem reflect the story the poem tells?  How would you describe the shape of this poem?
  2. What is your impression of the speaker in this poem?  What is his relationship with his illness?  How would you describe him as a person based on what he reveals about himself in the poem?
  3. When you see the word “Frankenstein,” what happens to your visual image of the speaker walking?  The speaker says he does not walk like Frankenstein or a tottering child.  Does that stop you from seeing him walk in those ways?
  4. There are many clichés in this poem. Normally, writers try to avoid clichés.  Why does the poet use them here?  How do they work for the poem?  How many can you identify?
  5. What has the speaker learned from his illness?  What is his attitude?
  6. What feelings does this poem evoke in you?
  7. What makes the speaker dizzy?  Notice how you feel in your body as you read the poem.  Does the poem have a visceral effect on you?  If so, what aspects of the poem cause that visceral effect?
  8. The title, “First Steps,” has multiple meanings.  How would you describe those different layers of meaning?

Another Life by Susan Varon

  1. What is this speaker’s relationship with her physical condition?
  2. What comes to your mind when you notice someone walking with a cane or a limp?  Do you think people have preconceived ideas about people who have physical disabilities?
  3. How does the description of the canes “lying forgotten” apply to the speaker and her friend?
  4. What is the mood of the speaker?
  5. How does the speaker perceive the people “above her head”? How does she describe them?
  6. What does the title, “Another Life,” refer to in the poem?  How many layers of meaning can you identify?
  7. Where are there “connections” in the poem?  Where are moments of separation?
  8. Which line or lines stand out for you?
  9. What sounds does the speaker refer to in the poem?  What do those sounds add to the poem?
  10. Do you feel distance from the speaker?  Do you feel connection with the speaker?  Is it possible to feel both at the same time?  

Sleeping on the Perimeter by Gaynell Gavin 

  1. Is there a connection between veterans “securing the perimeter” and the difficulty experienced by survivors of life-threatening illnesses in acknowledging their survival?
  2. How is the Vietnam War used in the writer’s method of character development?
  3. In what ways does the piece’s structure reflect the main themes of the story? 
  4. What are the various forms of conflict represented throughout this piece?  Who do they involve?  What are their causes?   
  5. What types of connections are forged through war and how?  What types of connections are ruptured and how?
  6. How does war affect the combatants?  How are they transformed (psychologically, physically, etc.)?  What does war do to their humanity and that of the “enemy”?  
  7. Numerous scars and wounds are described in this piece.  Who is scarred and how?  How do those affected deal with the scars and wounds (their own and others)?  
  8. What role does the excerpt from Tobias Wolff’s memoir play in this piece?  What does he say about “jumping”?  

Survivor by Eamon Grennan

  1. Who is the survivor in this poem?
  2. What happens with your breath as you read the poem?  How does the architecture of the poem work to affect your breath?  Your heart rate?
  3. Imagine what the bee might be feeling when it is captured…as it is held…when it is freed.
  4. What do you think the speaker feels as he captures, then holds, the releases the bee?
  5. What purpose does it serve to have no breaks in the poem so that it seems to rush forward?
  6. How do the sounds in the poem heighten its meaning?  Which words call to each other?
  7. What does the speaker mean by “of this world, and yet beyond it…”?
  8. How many different references to pulse can you find in the poem?  Why is the pulse and heartbeat so important in this poem?
  9. What images would you describe as soft in this poem?
  10. How would you describe the “puzzle of the world,” as it relates to the speaker and his encounter with the bee?  Have you ever captured an insect and held it captive?  Set it free?  Do you remember how it felt to capture and then free it?

Whatever is Left by Cortney Davis

  1. Why do you think the mother wants whatever is left of her fetus?
  2. Why do you think the mother gives the “blood and small bones” a name?
  3. How does the image of the plastic cup work for the poem?  What does it tell you about the difference in how the institution of the hospital perceives “what is left” versus how the mother sees it?
  4. How would you characterize the speaker’s attitude toward the mother?  What actions show she is caring?  What actions show she is part of the hospital culture?
  5. How does the shape of the poem affect its subject matter?
  6. Why do you think the poet repeats the word cup through the poem?

Visual Anguish and Looking at Art by Carol Zoref 

  1. “The brain, having been asked to understand faster than it can absorb, replays the unprocessed stimuli again and again” (301).  Does this relate to the responses many of us feel when we experience sudden personal loss or devastating illness?
  2. Does the mind’s repetition of trauma serve a useful purpose?
  3. How does the narrator struggle to express something indescribable?  What kinds of words or means of expression does she eschew?  Why?  
  4. How does the narrator view metaphor and simile?  Why might these modes of description become ineffectual or defunct through the experience of 9/11?     
  5. What effect does location (proximity and distance from the event both physically and temporally) create?  Between whom does it create a disconnect?  
  6. How does the narrator represent the disruption between sense perception and knowledge/understanding caused by the sights, sounds, and smells of 9/11?
  7. Why is “desire” a “troublesome word” (301) in the context of 9/11? 
  8. How is the narrator disconnected from her own body?  
  9. What does the sentiment “I ache for something greater for my senses” (301) express?  
  10. What does “the eminence of place” (301) mean for the narrator?  
  11. The narrator juxtaposes 9/11 with scenes of foreign and distant destruction and war mediated through artistic representation?  How do they reflect upon each other?  
  12. What are the different forms of seeing in this piece?  Who is looking at what and how is the viewer affected?  
  13. How does the art of Kenro Izu affect the narrator?  Does the art of Bruegel the Elder affect the narrator differently?  Why?  
  14. What are the various psychological terms that appear in this piece?  What reflections do they inspire?  To what are they applied?  
  15. How does the narrator find the path to recovery?  What role does art play in this discovery and what is the nature of the healing process?
  16. To what does the “it” of the last “Have you seen it?” refer?   

Strategy by Samuel Menashe

  1. How does brevity serve this poem?  How does it embody the speaker’s strategy for life and survival?
  2. What do you think the lines “We are given/What we did not ask” mean in this poem?
  3. Why do you think the poet chose not to use punctuation?  How does that choice serve the poem?  What do you think about the two dashes after the word “task”?
  4. What is the poem’s intent?  How does the rhyme scheme contribute to the poem’s intent?
  5. What is the mood of the speaker?

Bereavement and Beyond by Joan Kip

  1. Does the author’s “professional” knowledge help her to deal with her own grief?
  2. Would reading Joan Kip’s story help others who are grieving?
  3. What traditional tenets of mourning does the narrator debunk?  What rules/facts of mourning does she offer in their stead?  
  4. What kind of community does shared mourning create?  
  5. How has the narrator been transformed by the loss of her husband?  
  6. At what point does the author arrive at her epiphany?
  7. What is the relationship between time and memory?  In what ways does Kip express this relationship?

In the End by Robert Nazarene

  1. What do you think “the end” means to the speaker? How would you describe “the end”?
  2. How does the repetition of “the end” work for this poem?
  3. How would you describe the shape of this poem? What feeling does it evoke for you?
  4. What unspoken images come to your mind as you read this poem?