Live Virtual Group Session: 12pm EDT July 15th 2020

32 participants gathered today from around the world to explore the form, tone, voice and resonance of the poem “Monet Refuses the Operation,” written by German-American poet Lisel Mueller. After introductions and a 10-second silence/centering, the group heard the poem read aloud twice (once as text only and then again while looking at an image of Rouen Cathedral, by artist Claude Monet.)

Initial questions of “Who is speaking? What do we know? What do our senses tell us?” provided momentum for a discussion of identity (could be Monet…or anyone), doctor/patient intersubjectivity (what is real vs. a “doctor’s real”), vulnerability (as an aging artist), and the illusion of reality (even with fixed points of reference).  We recognized that there is comfort in the idea that it’s ok to change, that there is a beauty in aging beyond what’s a baseline “normal” toward a perhaps-better “non-normal.”  Reality, it was said, is in the eye of the individual, and this vision of the artist seems to manifest itself in the poem about Monet as well as in his painting.

Our conversation settled into an exploration of tone (humorous?), reactions (some positive, others negative), form (“line breaks are illusions of borders, of thoughts”), and conflict (impressionism vs. realism).  The artist-patient urgency in the poem (“You say/I tell you”) informed our appreciation for the poem itself as art and our commitment to it as listeners/readers: what do we as individuals bring to the poem?

Participants wrote to the prompt “Write about a time you saw things differently.” One writer described herself as having been “stuck in quicksand” not being able to budge until she recovered a memory of “color singing in my soul.”  Another began a poem in the shadow of the Mueller text: “My son, your heart . . . .”  And our readings came full circle when our last writer, mirroring the text discussion that began with a reflection on aging, took us all the way back to a childhood vision of sweets.

Participants are warmly encouraged to share what you wrote below (“Leave a Reply”), to keep the conversation going here, bearing in mind that the blog of course is a public space where confidentiality is not assured.

Also, we would love to learn more about your experience of these sessions, so if you’re able, please take the time to fill out a follow-up survey of one to two quick questions!

Please join us for our next session Monday, July 20th at 6pm EDT, with more times listed on our Live Virtual Group Sessions page.

We look forward to seeing you again soon!

Monet Refuses the Operation by Lisel Mueller

Doctor, you say there are no haloes
around the streetlights in Paris
and what I see is an aberration
caused by old age, an affliction.
I tell you it has taken me all my life
to arrive at the vision of gas lamps as angels,
to soften and blur and finally banish
the edges you regret I don’t see,
to learn that the line I called the horizon
does not exist and sky and water,
so long apart, are the same state of being.
Fifty-four years before I could see
Rouen cathedral is built
of parallel shafts of sun,
and now you want to restore
my youthful errors: fixed
notions of top and bottom,
the illusion of three-dimensional space,
wisteria separate
from the bridge it covers.
What can I say to convince you
the Houses of Parliament dissolve
night after night to become
the fluid dream of the Thames?
I will not return to a universe
of objects that don’t know each other,
as if islands were not the lost children
of one great continent. The world
is flux, and light becomes what it touches,
becomes water, lilies on water,
above and below water,
becomes lilac and mauve and yellow
and white and cerulean lamps,
small fists passing sunlight
so quickly to one another
that it would take long, streaming hair
inside my brush to catch it.
To paint the speed of light!
Our weighted shapes, these verticals,
burn to mix with air
and changes our bones, skin, clothes
to gases. Doctor,
if only you could see
how heaven pulls earth into its arms
and how infinitely the heart expands
to claim this world, blue vapor without end.

Lisel Mueller, "Monet Refuses the Operation" from Second Language.
Copyright © 1996 by Lisel Mueller. 

14 thoughts on “Live Virtual Group Session: 12pm EDT July 15th 2020

  1. My son, your heart
    Is larger
    Than it is supposed to be
    And the doctors have said it’s abnormal
    In its shape and size and VO2 capacity.
    How sad
    To hear something
    Different from the fluttering bird caught
    In the cage of your ribs
    Or the joyful drumbeat from running
    Your heart out,
    Slowing to waves on the beach as you lie
    With your back on the grass and your
    Arms stretched out embracing the world.
    Your heart
    Could never be abnormal
    I want to say to you.
    Its largeness can hold all the world
    And its metabolism – called “awry”-
    Is one the world perhaps hasn’t seen before:
    A way of dissolving
    The walls
    That keep

    Liked by 4 people

    • Cherie Henderson

      Antionette, thank you so much for posting this. With it written out, I can see how you are using the line breaks as Mueller did, which adds a whole other dimension to what was already a powerful piece. I notice too how “arms stretched out embracing the world” for me recalls Mueller’s “heaven pulls earth into its arms”… Fantastic.

      Liked by 1 person

    • al3793

      Antoinette, I hear the heart of a mother in your beautiful words. I love the image of “the joyful drumbeat from running your heart out,” and the insistence that, “Your heart could never be abnormal…its largeness can hold all the world.” It certainly would be an unusal heart that can hold the whole world.” What a gift! Andre

      Liked by 1 person

  2. “You wish to be a philosopher
    in times of distress,
    when some little piece of you
    bleeds for days,
    without explanation.
    The doctor of herbs told you
    that everything was ruined,
    beyond saving.
    The doctor of pills and scalpel
    tells you to quit smoking, binge eating, stressing.
    You are a rider of the lights,
    exchanging pain with theory,
    with philosophy.
    Of all you can see,
    your pain is untranslatable,
    in terms of books and reports.
    I for one wish, that
    you would just talk to a friend,
    and hold a hand, while you stood
    with shaking legs and soul.”
    Thanks for a wonderful session again.

    Liked by 4 people

    • cheriehenderson

      Thank you for posting, Sakshi. I love how this is written in the shadow of the Mueller in its form, and I was most struck by the repetition of “the doctor of herbs” and “the doctor of pills and scalpel” — it sets up a wonderful juxtaposition.

      Liked by 2 people

  3. I had a long ride to a Narrative Medicine session in Baltimore so I decided to listen to the audio of my Narrative Justice assignment for the week – no video – just listen to Southern Comfort. Robert Eads opens the movie as its philosopher narrator and central character, asking, “I wish I knew why they did what they did.” Through the act of listening closely, I came to see things differently. Challenged by not understanding, curiosity to understand better and wanting to avoid, most of all, any sense of judgement, I came to see clearly that Robert and his community, his friends, his lover, his people, despite all they give up, all the loss, all the suffering of humanity, each sought the same thing we all seek – to love an other and to be loved.

    Liked by 5 people

    • cheriehenderson

      Andre, thank you for posting (and for your insights during our session!). I see the prompt expressed directly — “I came to see things differently” — and that matter-of-factness feels solid, like the end of a journey, which for me echoed the idea of a journey that started the piece. Nice move!

      Liked by 1 person

  4. A time I saw things differently~~~

    I once thought of life, of living life,
    as a time set aside for the young,
    the vibrant,
    the risk-takers.

    As years melted and became part of my past,
    my world has taken on a different perspective.
    Living one’s life should not be considered as a foot- race to the finish line,
    where life events become just blurs in memory.

    Rather, it is to be savored and measured and thought about.
    The essence of living is in the contemplation of what truly is…
    the relationships, the places, the actions that bring self-fulfillment, self-actualization to the core of being.

    Eyes now wide open,
    fully taking in what surrounds me,
    this new vision brings joy to my spirit
    and warmth to my heart.
    And so my life is now in focus.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Andre Lijoi

      You provide an account of how perspective and vision evolve in teh journey of life.
      Lines like, ” where life events become just blurs in memory,” “Eyes now wide open”, and
      “warmth to my heart” take me back into Mueller’s texts and the gas lamps and gentle hues of Monet’s Impressionism.
      Your closing about “contemplation of what truly is…” reflects each artist’s and writer’s yearning and search for truth.
      As always, provocative and lovely. Thank you.


      Liked by 1 person

  5. Dr Yewande Okuleye

    Remembering moment to moment

    I can’t remember when
    I last saw things differently
    My two eyes are tired
    I guess my views have become
    somewhat set in stone
    On course to fulfil a destination

    I feel sad
    stuck in quicksand

    when a voice reminds me
    that I had not forgotten
    Remember remembering you must remember
    Yes now it comes to me

    I remember it was the beginning of the millennium
    and I saw possibilities in everything everywhere everyone
    Every possibility

    It went on —————————————————————-

    My world was full of possibilities
    Possibilities in vibrant colours
    riots of color
    just like colour singing in my soul
    breaking all the rules of color
    to create endless possibilities

    I can’t wait to get back
    to the feeling of seeing
    things transform
    and flow
    movement to movement
    moment to moment

    Liked by 3 people

    • antoinette56

      “Remember remembering you must remember” sounds like a mantra worth following, and one that could work over and over to get one unstuck again, and for colors to shine again…thank you!


  6. Patricia D.

    While on retreat,
    gliding in a kayak
    upon sparkling water
    alone, but not alone
    as a family of 9 ducks
    silently paddled by
    I saw how the trees
    broke into geometric
    pieces as they were
    mirrored in the lake.
    I realized that they
    and I and all of us
    are ephemeral.
    Tears of joy
    trickled down my face
    as I grasped the notion
    of emptiness.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Patricia,
      I am accustomed to seeing at least a subtle vagueness at the edges of a reflection in the water, so the geometric pieces made me think of sharp edges, contrary to Monet’s vision, and I was moved by your joyful embrace of a moment of emptiness. I wondered what do we see when we can no longer see. Thank you.


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