Literature Annotations


Clark-Sayles, Catharine
One Breath


On-Line Text
Genre Collection (Poems) (61 pp.)
KeywordsAging, Anatomy, Anesthesia, Art of Medicine, Body Self-Image, Caregivers, Children, Communication, Death and Dying, Death and Dying, Disease and Health, Doctor-Patient Relationship, Empathy, Family Relationships, Freedom, Grief, Human Worth, Illness and the Family, Individuality, Loneliness, Love, Medical Education, Memory, Mother-Daughter Relationship, Mourning, Ordinary Life, Pain, Physical Examination, Physician Experience, Poverty, Prayer as Medicine, Professionalism, Religion, Society, Spirituality, Suffering, Surgery, Survival, Time, Women in Medicine
Summary

This suggestively titled collection of poems provides a lyric record of a physician’s way of seeing.  The situations to which the poems bear witness are not only medical, though many are.  Some are cityscapes into which are woven surprisingly astute observations of homeless people or hitchhikers or ducks in the park.  Some explore the geography of a body where memories are held in “neuron chains.”  Some articulate bits of personal history from the point of view of a woman who has spent years in medicine, caring for the elderly, seeing bodies with the double vision of a clinician and a person whose spirituality clearly informs all she sees.

Titles like “ER Alphabet of Hurt” or “Looking for God On the Radio” or “Hippocrates Voyeur” or simply “Scars” may give some sense of the range of focus.  Her vision and voice are strongly local; those who know Marin County, north of San Francisco, will recognize the places that become the poet’s personal geography.  Those who don’t will still see in these poems a sensibility shaped and refined by the knowledge that comes from deep habitation.  

Commentary

Varied in form, these poems offer enough variety for readers repeatedly to experience a renewed sense of surprise as they make their way through the collection.  But they are linked by a strong sense of the speaker’s compassion, spiritual hungers, gentle sense of humor, and rich experience.  She is clearly someone upon whom years of care giving have not been lost:  her skills seem to have fueled her commitment to caring, in all senses.  In one poem she recalls her own development as a child who loved words:  “loved the safe, solid heft of sound // but learned well the silent shapes:  the form of hurt, the sound of sad, / how they reach to fill between.”

The choreography of words and silences in these poems, the thread of metaconversation about words themselves, their limitations and their power, make these poems much more than a record of a medical life deeply lived.  They hold their own as a fine contribution to contemporary poetry that speaks into the lives we are called to live now, the sorrows that belong to this moment we share, and the need for poets who provide consolation and encouragement in their courageous precision. 

PublisherTebot Bach
Edition2008
Place PublishedHuntington Beach, CA
Annotated by McEntyre, Marilyn Chandler
Date of Entry 09/03/10