Live Virtual Group Session: 6pm EDT July 20th 2020: Our 50th Session in English!

Mary Sormanti welcomed 39 Zoomers into our Monday evening CELEBRATION OF THE 50TH LIVE VIRTUAL NARRATIVE MEDICINE SESSION WITH THE WORLD IN ENGLISH. There were many familiar faces in our Brady Bunch boxes and new faces too. We usually begin by dropping into the chat where we are zooming from, but this evening we began by chatting one thing we are grateful for, as Mary reviewed what we have done together during these weekly gatherings:

  • we’ve read poetry and excerpts from novels
  • we’ve listened to poetry and music
  • we’ve looked at paintings and photographs

And we’ve done all of this “closely”, “slowly” –  with great interest, curiosity and care – noticing textures and colors and mood, perspectives of space and time and many other things.

We’ve responded to all kinds of prompts. We’ve written about:

  • “neighbors”       
  • “clearings”     
  • “awakenings”      and
  • “choices crying to be taken”

We’ve written about:

  • “shattering the silence” and
  • “stepping into the sun” 

We’ve written about:

  • “the frontline”
  • “what we’ve found” and
  • “what’s swirling in the air”

And perhaps above all we’ve listened to one another and to ourselves.

Meanwhile, appearing in the chat were participants’ words of gratefulness for:



Family without conflicts

Friendly faces

Grace of this space

Immersion in arts


Interesting Ideas

Strangers who are no longer strangers

The space of a Clearing


Before turning to this evening’s text, Lynne introduced the idea of approaching the text as a puzzle and suggested that each comment would be a small piece of the “puzzle” we would assemble together. In Narrative Medicine we refer to the process as co-constructing meaning. We know before we begin that we will not “solve” a text as we intentionally choose texts that are inexhaustible.

A rich discussion developed in the shadow of Natalia’s sharing a screen with the image of a partially completed jigsaw with blue puzzle pieces and hearing two participants read aloud “Girls Overheard While Assembling a Puzzle” by Mary Szybist (posted below) The blues of sky and water and “the veins in my grandmother’s hands” drew us in. One person likened the poem to bodies of water that have no shape of their own but flow from place to place, taking the shape of their containers. We considered how the puzzle, which the girls were assembling, and the text, which we were puzzling over, needed to be shaped. That led one participant to comment on the importance of having a frame to work within and another to underscore the search for pieces that fit together. Early on, someone noticed that the form of the poem was that of an abecedarium—each line beginning with a letter of the alphabet in alphabetical order. She told us that this is an ancient form that appeared early on in Iran and in the Hebrew bible. There were wonderful intertextual associations to movies “A Wonderful Life” and “Wings of Desire.” While several people heard the poem as a stream of consciousness, others heard a conversation between girls. One person identified himself as a father who had overheard just this kind of exchange (associative, interrupted, broken lines) among his daughter and her friends. 

We were pulled deeper and deeper into the mystery of the text as the speaker of the poem depicts the girls wanting to enter the garden in the puzzle. One participant said that the girls want to understand what is “under the surface”—even “X-Ray” the action. Or, another said, (because that word, in particular, puzzled  readers, “X-Ray” was inserted into the poem to satisfy its abecedarian form?!

What images formed as participants worked in parallel with the girls? Although no specific image was described, several people saw “a classic image” or “something holy” forming.   

Before we “eavesdroppers” moved to our own writing, Natalia shared a screen with a mosaic of images (including the cover of Mary Szybist’s poetry collection Incarnadine) that many painters have rendered and titled: The Annunciation.

The poem’s attention to young girls, curious about sexuality, as they assemble a puzzle that several participants described as “holy” seemed to unleash playfulness and sexual language in writing to the prompt: Imagine, then write a conversation between angels.

One writer named her angels Electricity and Metallica and they, in turn, called their charges “homo fabrios” for all the trouble they can manufacture. Several other angels expressed worry and frustration and powerlessness as they recognized that they couldn’t protect humans, who had been given free will. In listening to each other’s writing, we heard the exhaustion of these guardian angels. In addition we heard and experienced the power of creativity, laughter, and a lightness that abounded. It was almost as if we had grown wings and our voices became a choir of angels.

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. In commemoration of our 50th English Language session, our facilitation team selected their favorite 50 texts for Narrative Medicine, posted below, and we encourage you to share one or two of yours as well, along with your writing!

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 Wednesday, July 22nd at 12pm EDT, with more times listed on our Live Virtual Group Sessions page.

Girls Overheard While Assembling a Puzzle
by Mary Szybist

Are you sure this blue is the same as the
blue over there? This wall’s like the
bottom of a pool, its
color I mean. I need a
darker two-piece this summer, the kind with
elastic at the waist so it actually
fits. I can’t
find her hands. Where does this gold
go? It’s like the angel’s giving
her a little piece of honeycomb to eat.
I don’t see why God doesn’t
just come down and
kiss her himself. This is the red of that
lipstick we saw at the
mall. This piece of her
neck could fit into the light part
of the sky. I think this is a
piece of water. What kind of
queen? You mean
right here? And are we supposed to believe
she can suddenly
talk angel? Who thought this stuff
up? I wish I had a
velvet bikini. That flower’s the color of the
veins in my grandmother’s hands. I
wish we could
walk into that garden and pick an
X-ray to float on.
Yeah. I do too. I’d say a
zillion yeses to anyone for that.

Our Facilitator’s 50 Favorite Texts for Narrative Medicine

  1. The Mississippi River Empties Into the Gulf by Lucille Clifton
  2. The Last Remaining Speaker of Eyak Has Died by Michael Grabell
  3. Girl by Jamaica Kincaid 
  4. For Calling the Spirit Back from Wandering the Earth in Its Human Feet by Joy Harjo
  5. Little Prayer- Danez Smith OCD by Neil Hilborn
  6. Good Bones by Maggie Smith
  7. Kindness by Naomi Shihab Nye
  8. “Bone Box” from Body of Work by Christine Montrose
  9. The Universe: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack by Tracy K Smith
  10. 19 by Lawrence Ferlinghetti  (from A Coney Island of the Mind)
  11. Lady Freedom Among Us by Rita Dove (from On The Bus With Rosa Parks)
  12. Lights From Other Windows by Naomi Shihab Nye (from Words Under The Words)
  13. Interrogative by Tracy K. Smith (from Duende)
  14. September  1, 1939 by W. H. Auden (from Another Time)
  15. The Departure by Rachel Hadas (from Laws)
  16. Evening Walk by Charles Simic (from Sixty Poems)
  17. Dead Doe by Briget Pegeen Kelly (from Song)*
  18. Public Transportation by Elaine Sexton (from Sleuth)
  19. Visions of Johanna by Bob Dylan (from Blonde on Blonde)
  20. Musee des Beaux Arts by W. H. Auden
  21. Peaches by Adrienne Su
  22. The Hope I Know The Hope I Know by Thomas Centolella
  23. The Artist by William Carlos Williams
  24. Praise Song for the Day by Elizabeth Alexander
  25. Those Winter Sundays by Robert Hayden
  26. On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous by Ocean Vuong
  27. Tamara’s Opus, spoken word performance by Joshua Bennett
  28. The Mailman by Nazim Hikmet
  29. A worker’s speech to a doctor by Bertold Brecht
  30. The Chart by Rafael Campo
  31. The Salon by Angelica Recierdo
  32. A Sacred Place Never Spoken Of by Angelica Recierdo
  33. Anosmia Collection by Vibhu Krishna
  34. Days by Philip Larkin
  35. Where I’m From by George Ella Lyon
  36. In Shock by Rana Awdish
  37. Los Nadies by Eduardo Galeano
  38. Give Your Daughters Difficult Names by Assétou Xango
  39. In Tennessee I Found a Firefly by Mary Szybist
  40. Hairs by Sandra Cisneros
  41. The Vantage Point by Robert Frost
  42. Ode to a Pair of Scissors by Pablo Neruda
  43. The English Patient (first page) by Michael Ondaatje
  44. What Do We Have in Our Pockets/Etgar Keret
  45. Tía José by Ángeles Mastretta
  46. Who Will Run the Frog Hospital? (last page) by Lorrie Moore
  47. Medical History by Eleanor Stanford
  48. Monet Refuses the Operation by Lisel Mueller
  49. Two Answers by Mark Strand
  50. A Summer Day by Mary Oliver