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January 13 , 2010

Sleep Talker

Poems by a Doctor/Mother


Audrey Shafer observes the world with a quiet intensity, with a reverence for the everydayness of her children’s toys, the earth outside her window, and the sacred trust of her sleeping patients. Her poems reflect the seamless back and forth of her woman’s life, at one moment breathing for her patients, in the next choosing socks for her daughter

to wear. “Barking orders / I stick the tube in / silently curse, pray, sell my soul for the beat of a hidden heart,” this doctor/mother reminds us all of the fluidity of identity. Stunning, truly.

–Delese Wear, Ph.D., Editor, Journal of Medical Humanities

Audrey Shafer’s poems demonstrate a unique blend of tenderness and steadiness that makes hers a recognizable and welcome voice among contemporary physician-poets. Her images are powerful and compelling. Consider, for example, “gardenias thick as lust” and the “gauze-choked winter sun.” Her line is graceful, yet disciplined; her language imaginative, even transcendent, yet always grounded in “flesh, arm, artery, earlobe” and always aware of “the scrape of the key in the lock.” Sleep Talker reveals that the most ordinary moment in life can also be “the glory and the answer.”

–Jack Coulehan, M.D., Editor, Blood and Bone: Poems by Physicians

Audrey Shafer has, in abundant measure, all the requirements for the making of fine poems–a well-tuned eye, ear, and heart. A palpable sense of discovery is everywhere in her poetry, unique, contemplative, joyful, and wise.

–John Stone, M.D., poet and essayist, Where Water Begins: New Poems and Prose

In her first book of poems, anesthesiologist Audrey Shafer, M.D., boldly weaves her professional and personal worlds. These poems, some previously published in journals and anthologies, provide a glimpse of the daily life, including the worries, foibles and glories, of a working mother. The book, although divided into three sections, contains many poems that interconnect the three themes (home, work, and journeys) as a reflection of the impossibility of disconnecting facets of a lived life.

The first section, “that I call home”, invokes the poet’s childhood in Philadelphia, the death of her father, love and succor from family and friends, and the fierce and tender joys of motherhood. The love poem, “Home”, written for her husband, is characteristic Shafer: the influence of medical and anatomical knowledge on her experience of the fragilities of love and life. Many poems, however, are far from solemn: “Socks” intertwines humor and maternal love and “Riff” is a self-deprecating romp into drumming taken up in midlife.

The second section, “not quite sleep”, delves into the world of the doctor, and in particular, the anesthesiologist. This section may be of greatest interest to those in the fields of medical humanities and pedagogy. In poems such as “Center Stage” and “Anesthesia”, the poet reflects on the nature of anesthesia and the profound gift of trust that her patients offer her. The widely anthologized poem, “Monday Morning”, describes the intimate early morning hours of a doctor / mother.

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