Fetal Pigs and Popcorn: ‘Lessons’ in May’s ‘Art of Nursing’

By Sylvia Foley, AJN senior editor

Popcorn by twicepix / Martin Abegglen, via Flickr

To be frank, the opening scenario in Bernadette Geyer’s poem “Lessons,” featured in this month’s Art of Nursing department, made me uneasy when I first read it—and yet I was intrigued. In the poem, “Mom” has fallen asleep over a medical textbook, and her three daughters “watch as Dad / tosses popcorn, aimed for her slack mouth.” What’s going on here? The father’s action seems mocking, almost cruel.

But as good poems will, “Lessons” reveals more with each reading. The mother’s textbook is full of lurid photographs, including those of “a dissected fetal pig.” The young daughters find their own changing bodies “so embarrassing.” The father’s popcorn tossing makes his daughters giggle, and those garish photos of death recede just a little. Maybe that’s not a bad thing.  Read the poem—it’s free online (please click through to the PDF version)—and sit with it for a bit, see what you think. Then tell us in the comments!

Bernadette Geyer, a writer and freelance editor living in the Washington, DC, area,  received a 2010 Strauss Fellowship from the Arts Council of Fairfax County, Virginia.  Links to several of her poems can be found on her Web site.  She also blogs here about writing, motherhood, and life in “the exiles of suburbia.”

If you’re a poet or a visual artist, we hope you’ll consider submitting your work to us for consideration. Read this blog post for details. Guidelines can be found here. If you still have questions, feel free to write to the Art of Nursing coordinator (me) at sylvia.foley@wolterskluwer.com.

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2016-11-21T13:17:42+00:00 May 14th, 2010|Nursing|3 Comments

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  1. Alice August 17, 2010 at 5:04 pm

    I read and re-read the poem but I failed to see the humor in it. Throwing food at your sleeping wife and embarrassing your children by tripping them in front of others… not cool.

  2. Bernadette Geyer May 14, 2010 at 9:02 pm

    Sorry about that. The link to my blog post should have been http://bernadettegeyer.blogspot.com/2010/05/difficulty-of-writing-personal-poems.html


  3. Bernadette Geyer May 14, 2010 at 9:01 pm


    Thank you very much for this post regarding my poem. I’ve recently blogged about the difficulty of putting personal information “out there” and having no control over how others interpret it.


    I am very glad to know how this poem affected you, and how your reaction to it changed after multiple readings.

    Thank you for publishing it in AJN!


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