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

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

  1. Bee

    2 angels

    where are you going?
    where are you from?
    I like your wings……
    I like your dimples
    they were my humans
    who was your human?
    I have many humans all born on the same day- millions of them ,dont you have millions of humans too?
    no just the one ….and its so long ago I can’t remember her name
    the name doesn’t matter its what they do that counts

    Liked by 5 people

  2. Dr Yewande Okuleye

    Angels Watching Over Us

    I am tired of picking up after

    Well I am happy to pick up after
    she is lovely

    It is hymn that I have the problem with

    What do you mean

    You know the fat one who
    throws his towel on the floor
    leaves the toilet seat up
    never washes his hands
    you know
    Do you want me to go on

    I get it

    You don’t like him do you

    No I don’t

    Well that’s settled then


    Liked by 4 people

    • al3793

      Dr. Yewende,
      It is interesting how much humor is shared in these posts. I like the play on words, Hymn and Him and the complexity of the conversation and how the characters come to consensus. You wrapped in the complexity of Zybist’s texts in just a few lines. Thank you. Andre


  3. cindy

    Angel 1: Hello.
    Angel 2: Hello.
    Angel 1: Did you hear the news today? The judge’s son killed, and husband shot?
    Angel 2: Yeah. WTF.
    Angel 1: We need to help them. Help more of them.
    Angel 2: But, you do know we can’t change anything?
    Angel 1: Yeah, but…
    Angel 2: So, what can we do?
    Angel 1: Something. I don’t know, we just have to do something.
    Angel 2: I want to…. but I don’t know how.
    Angel 1: Let’s try. Just keep trying. We can at least show them we won’t give up on them. Maybe some can still be saved.
    Angel 2: But…

    Liked by 4 people

  4. A conversation between angels~~~

    It really is nice having the ability to float around and go anywhere we want, both up here in the azure blue and down below in that forsaken netherworld.

    – Yes, it is. I was just down to earth watching over one of my charges. Golly, the silly things these humans do at times.

    I agree. Just the other day, I had to shout in the ear of a teenager named Mary. She had a heavy foot on the accelerator pedal of her hot, new convertible she was driving and she almost went flying through a stop sign. Luckily, she heard me just in time. I think I lost one of my ethereal lives!

    -If only I could convince these humans of what awaits them up here. If only they would be a bit kinder to each other and at least try to become their brothers’ keeper. If only, if only. Oh well, if they were perfect we all would be out of a job!

    Liked by 4 people

  5. erika

    “How are you?!,” she asks, moving her wing to one side, as she settles in on the blue couch. Wings are cumbersome in the real world and never really find their place to fit in, especially not on human couches. “I mean, really? How are you, really?” she emphasizes as she looks deeply into my eyes. “I’m tired,” I say. I’ve long forgotten any other world of experience. In fact, I’m not sure I even trust that’s she’s speaking to me. Nor can I really accepts anything she might say. “Are you on about that again,” I ask her, demanding a response. I mean it can’t really be. “Look at my kitchen, look at all of this,” I say pointing to the mess of my kitchen, to the study, the books piled all over the place… “But it is true,” she says emphatically, pounding her fist lightly against the side of the couch for emphasis, making space on the space on the couch next to her, beckoning me. “You are, honey. You are, you are. You’ve just been walking in so much earth dust, you can’t see straight anymore.” I sit down, exhausted, sitting in her presence and begin to breathe as her wings begin to envelop me. Or were they my wings, long forgotten beginning to re-emerge…?

    Liked by 3 people

    • al3793

      I am drawn in by the closeness, the intimacy of this conversation, a moment that only close friends can share. It is easy to see how the earth dust (smoke and tear gas) prevents us from seeing straight. it is lovely to see how we can make such a difference, even to prompt atrophied angel wings to reemerge…a true act of compassion. Thank you. Andre


  6. Dr Yewande Okuleye

    Texts for Narrative Medicine
    1)From The House Of Yemanjá by Audre Lorde
    2)Faceless by Benjamin Zephania
    3) People Like That Are the Only People Here:Canonical Babbling in Peed Onk in Birds of America
    by Lorrie Moore

    Liked by 3 people

  7. Joe

    A Conversation Between Angels

    -“How do we help them, if they will not help themselves?”
    -“We cannot force hands to hold one another.”
    -“If we said the sky was blue today, they would hate the one who saw it as white on another.”
    -“Both are true, not always at the same time.”
    -“What happens when you fall?”
    -“I stand back up, I fly.”
    -“What happens when they fall?”
    -“They think it is the one thing that will define them forever.”
    -“So, then they trip others so they won’t be alone on the ground.”
    -“How do we tell them to stop imagining the least in themselves as the most in others.”
    -“I don’t know. What they believe is more powerful than anything.”

    Liked by 4 people

    • Joe, I like how you recognize that there can be more than one truth and at times the truth can change. Somewhere in life “they” received the unfortunate message that their lives were of little value and “they” spend their lives as victims whether they or we see the truth of that. I rather stand back up and fly.
      Thank you. Andre


  8. Angel 1: “You know, she was a little unnerved by my visit. She managed to keep it reined in.”
    Angel 2: “Yeah, he startled when I woke him. He fell asleep in his workshop. It was a mess.”
    Angel 1: “How could it be?” she asked me.
    Angel 2: You know, he said the same thing, “How could it be?”
    Angel 1: “I’m only 16,” she said.
    Angel 2: He’s not much more than that.
    Angel 1: People are talking. The town is tense.
    Angel 2: “But, I love her,” he said. He doesn’t want her to be hurt. He stayed quiet.
    Angel 1: She was deeply quiet, too.
    Angel 2: Why doesn’t God come down from heaven and kiss them both.

    Liked by 4 people

  9. “Little Anna walked towards the glowing meadow,
    her feet small,
    her eyes half closed.
    Everything is beautiful and fragrant,
    unlike the home she was chased away from.
    Someone touched her shoulder,
    and she screamed in pain,
    for that was her habit.
    it was someone so bright,
    and a voice echoed,
    and her hand was held-
    ‘You will be happier here…’, it said,
    ‘whatever that is,
    because there are no contrasts here,
    just ethereal eternal Existence-
    No Man-Woman, no animal-human etc.
    Just Existence…
    Something they didn’t give you.’ ”

    thank you for another great session. Happy 50th!

    Liked by 3 people

  10. Patricia D

    – Your wings! Oh No! What’s become of them?

    – They’re melting! Good God! Protect me!

    – The sun, it’s high and mighty, you know.

    – Too late to know as I’ve transgressed.

    – A good God will forgive you, I’m sure.

    – But when? how? when I’m wingless.

    – Have faith. Wings are only a part of you.

    – Yet, without them I cannot fly.

    – Perhaps it’s time for you to return to Earth.

    Liked by 2 people

  11. Nicoletta Suter

    What a great session! Congratulations for the 50th English workshop! Next Saturday it’ll be the 15th in Italian and we are so satisfied with our smaller but humanly speaking thick journey to discover Narrative Medicine wonderful possibilities. Proud to be part of this “embracing” community. All the best to everyone,


    • Hi Nicoletta.
      It is nice to “touch” again in this space. I’ve considered joining an Italian session. I can understand a little and I think the experience of struggling to understand in this context would be enriching.


  12. I want to add two “texts” to the list above:

    1. Joyas Voladaros by Brian Doyle in One Long River of Song – my favorite essay of the year.
    2. Franz Marc’s Blue Horses by Mary Oliver, paired with The Tower of Blue Horses (painting by Marc), and for fun and good reason, Eric Carle’s, The Artist Who Painted a Blue Horse.



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