Family


"Peeled Grapes" by Sharon Olds

1. At the beginning of the poem, Olds lists those things for which she feels grateful to her mother. How do these “gifts” differ in nature from the peeled grapes her mother hopes she hasn’t forgotten?
2. What kind of person emerges in the few lines Olds uses to depict her mother? Draw or describe her.
3. Write an imaginary conversation Olds’ mother might have with a close woman friend, revealing the mother’s personality as gleaned from the poem.
4. Would you like her as your mother? Explain in a paragraph or two, including the pros and cons.
5. Evaluate how you would feel if she were your own mother, including the pros and cons.
6. Olds uses the terms “said” and “mean” at the end of the poem. How has she transposed their usual arrangement? What does this convey to you?
7. Why does Olds conclude that her mother urges her to "Be yourself"? Can you draw the same conclusion from the evidence she provides in this poem?

Keywords: Caretaking, Coming of age, Independence, Parenthood


"Lily of The Valley" by Emma Wunsch

1. Henry takes care of his wife when she becomes ill, and after she dies, he must raise his daughter alone. Considering how Henry handles this responsibility, what do we learn about him?
2. Locate instances in which Henry tries, unsuccessfully, to talk with Lily about her eating habits.
3. There are several threads that weave throughout the story: the boy with the hole in his cheek, the father’s work on a physics textbook, the unusual Seattle heat. How do these resonate and add girth to the central story?
4. This story appears at first to be about Lily’s possible anorexia. But the turning point is not in solving that problem: it is an internal realization that occurs in her father. Henry travels common emotional responses to a problem: denial, recognition, struggle, breakthrough. This journey is similar to the plot outline of a story: exposition, intensifying conflict, crisis or turning point, resolution. What epiphany does the father have? Were you surprised at this ending?
5. The title and use of Lily’s name refers to “the valley” in Los Angeles. Now consider her name and the story in light of the following Biblical verses (Matthew 6:29-34): “Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they toil not, neither do they spin. Even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. Take therefore no thought for the morrow: for the morrow shall take thought for the things of itself.”
6. When Lily was young, Henry showed her how perception can change by closing one eye and then the other. Lily does this as she talks with her father over dinner. How does this small detail foreshadow Henry’s epiphany? Can you find other such details?

Keywords: Control, Death, Denial, Destruction, Family, Mental illness


"Above the Angels" by Phillip Levine

1. “It’s their life.” What kind of life is the poet describing?
2. There is a description of a painting of the angel Gabriel, in the poem. What are the differences between that represented angel and the child who is described as an angel?
3. “In this world the actual occurs.” What is ‘actual’ here? List words that leap out as showing what’s actual. What does the ‘actual’ exclude?
4. The poet asks:

“…how can the life of an angel abide
a Ford plant where the treasures
of the earth are blasted and beaten into items?”

Levine is alluding to these New Testament verses (Matthew 6:19-20):
“Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where rust and dust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal: But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven.
“For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.”

How would you answer Levine’s question?

Keywords: Childhood, Death, Family, Loss, Spirituality


"The Liver Nephew" by Susan Ito

1. Trace the conflicting pulls vying for Parker’s choice to donate, or not to donate, his liver.
2. Consider Parker’s character. What kind of a person does he seem to be? Aside from his circumstances, is he convincing as someone who would consider organ donation? What kind of person would do such a thing, and what kind would not?
3. What has become more solid in his character by the end of the story? What has come undone?
4. “Blood is thicker than water.” Consider the validity of this folk saying from the point of view of Parker, his uncle, and his cousin George.
5. What motivates George to tell his cousin the truth? How might that be more believable?
6. Write about a time in your life when you felt especially vulnerable. What decisions have you made out of that sense of desperation?
7. What are the risks of donating a liver? In this story, the doctors offer limited counsel to the nephew. Should the medical team take more responsibility for who donates an organ?

Keywords: Anxiety, Choice, Family, Guilt, Illness, Isolation, Loneliness, Relationships, Trust, Truth


"The Golden Hour" by Sue Ellen Thompson

1. What is similar in the poet’s caretaking of her dying parents and her memory of caretaking her infant daughter?
2. What advice does this poem offer caretakers about their own self-care? What advice do you have, or wish you had gotten?
3. Notice images of space and freedom. Notice images of enclosure, confinement. What does the poem say about the terrible pull of love, its obligation and snare? Does it conjure up any such pull for you? Write about such an instance in your life.
4. Find rhymes, slant-rhymes (words ending in the same consonants), and alliteration. Then locate words and line ends that are declarative, abrupt. How do these two kinds of sounds conspire to assist the poems’ themes?
5. Locate – or imagine – a golden hour in your own life. Describe it in a paragraph.

Keywords: Change, Death, Family, Freedom, Isolation, Love, Relationships, Responsibility


"So Much in the World is Waiting to be Found Out" by Sariah Dorbin

1. Discuss the interplay between the narrator’s career life and her personal life. How does each change as the story progresses? How does the narrator feel about these changes?
2. The mother never speaks in this piece. Her personality, remains on the periphery, in the realm of the narrator’s memory. How does this form of presenting character affect the reader’s vision of the mother? What does it tell us about the mother and the narrator, and their relationship?
3. Locate the moments when black humor appears in the story. Why is it used and to what effect?
4. The moments when the narrator must choose between saying “yes” or “no” reveal an interior dialogue that highlights a disconnect between what is being said and what is truly meant How does this echo the mother’s condition? What does the narrator say “yes” to, and what does she say “no” to? What effect does it have on the narrator and her mother?
5. Silence is just as powerful as speech in this piece. Who is silenced and how?
6. How does the narrator wrestle with issues of blame and responsibility?
7. How is the world of advertising similar to, or different from, the world of medicine?

Keywords: Blame, Control, Death, Doctor/Patient Relationship, Doctors, Family, Hope, Loss, Responsibility, Survival, Youth


"Socks" and "Stubborn" by Meg Kearney

1. In “Stubborn,” how does humor serve the father and daughter? Does it ease their mutual self-consciousness?
2. The relationship between parent and child is reversed in these poems. How does the labor and intimacy of caring for the father in a physical way serve as a rite of passage?
3. The poet uses two comparisons in each poem. Find them, and then read the poems again without these. How do the similes and metaphors contribute to the impact of the poems? To their vividness?
4. The daughter says she later steals the Gold Toe socks. Why would she steal them? Why would the poet use “steal” rather than “take?” Have you ever stolen anything for similar reasons?
5. In many countries families are encouraged to participate in a patient’s hospital stay (supplying blankets and food, being present in the examination room, etc.). Please comment.

Keywords: Caretaking, Family, Helplessness, Humor, Love, Mortality, Strength