Not God is an amazing collection of poetry written by a physician who mainly works with patients dying of cancer. But this collection is not about death; it is about the quirky and shocking humor or perspective that only a dying person possesses in order to fully live. For instance, look at “Doldrums,” in which dear Aunt Ethel arrives at the bedside of a terminally ill patient and proceeds to inundate the entire room with candy, complaints, and gossip, “The family/all mock this old painted bird. But just now/I love her dearly, so irreverent and beautiful.” Why? She is full of “life” just like every poem in this memorable book. The humming of a patient is interpreted as incantations, a musical score, etc. But the author shockingly suggests, “I think God hears them as my prayers.” What does the patient really think of his or her doctor who is obsessed with the disease process? In “Sigh” we read, “…He has no tolerance/for remonstration, his head is so cluttered/with obligatory data. I might articulate my pain/but he is filled with dying and I’m obliged/to keep the sigh inside.” In the brilliant title piece, “Not God,” the author imagines how to respond to the patient who says, “I know you’re not God…but what would you do if it was your father, or wife, …?” His reply? “Do you say this to your lawyer, accountant, or mother-in-law? And if I’m not God, then why/ask me a question that only God can answer?” This clever, poignant collection with plenty of spunkiness is a superb reminder about just what “L’Chaim” means in the perception of all living creatures — even those — all of us — who are dying! “To Life!” Celebrate!
Deborah Schoeneman, is a former English teacher/Writing Across the Curriculum Center Coordinator at North Shore Hebrew Academy High School and coeditor of Modern American Literature: A Library of Literary Criticism, Vol. VI, published in 1997.