Death


"His Own Time" by John Thompson

1. The narrator “does his time” by reading, others by walking. How does Lenny 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 Lenny’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 halts because of a suicide attempt and wishes the person “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 Lenny’s death?
8. If you were Morgan, how would you respond? If you were the narrator, what would you say? And if you were Lenny, 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?

Keywords: Anger, Anxiety, Destruction, Guilt, Suicide, Waiting


"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 bride coming down the aisle preceded by her flower girls have on you near the end of the poem? Describe how it enhances and deepens 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 poem’s 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?

Keywords: Anxiety, Death, Mortality, Mystery, Time, Uncertainty, Waiting


"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?

Keywords: Anxiety, Control, Destruction, Fear, Security, Tragedy, Trauma, War


"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…”. 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. 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?
9. Write a letter as Peter might write to his mother or closest friend about what happened to him that night.

Keywords: Death, Doctor/Patient Relationships, Empathy, Fear, Medicine, Mortality, Uncertainty, Waiting


"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 “life” to the dead? Which of these images stand out for you?
4. Do you think it is positive or a negative to miss the things of this life when 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?

Keywords: Coping, Desire, Grief, Loss, Memory, Mourning, Time, Uncertainty


"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?

Keywords: Death, Imagination, Separation, Spirituality