- Study Guides
- Contact Us
"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”. 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.” 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." 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?
Dealing With Memories of Death
"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”?
6. Why does this piece feel more clearly like fiction, whereas “…Divorced, Beheaded, Survived” feels a bit like nonfiction?
Dealing with Memories of Death
"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?
Communicating with the Dead
"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?
Death of Parents
"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? What does the word “frail” indirectly refer to?
3. Which images and sounds give this poem its haunting quality?
4. Certain words and images are repeated throughout 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 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"?