Poet Hadas ruminates on death and literature in these brief, challenging, and often profound essays. The deaths of the subtitle occurred within two months of each other in 1992: First Hadas's mother died of cancer; then her close friend Charles Barber died of AIDS. Neither death was a surprise. In fact, Hadas's thoughts about the end of life are intimately tied up with the degeneration of body and spirit that accompany it. For a time, she shuttled back and forth between her mother's and Charles's deathbeds--they were even simultaneously in different wings of the same hospital--watching their decline: the bedsores, Charles's blindness, the pain. Hadas details these aspects without becoming maudlin, and the whole is tempered by a strong dose of intellectual speculation on the nature of death and dying. It is in these discussions that Hadas the poet truly shines, using her remarkable knack for imagery to give substance to her ideas. On the sale of her father's library after his death many years ago, Hadas writes: ``[The books] lose their family and keep their life, the way books do.'' Hadas imagines that everyday life and events occur on a surface as ``fragile as piecrust . . . one injudicious jab of an impatient fork and out shoots an angry jet of steam.'' For Hadas, the grief she feels at the loss of her mother and friend are the jets of steam shooting out at her, the pain of which is intense and unavoidable. But rather than allowing herself to succumb to the grief, she determines to stride boldly over the crust's surface, remembering her loved ones who have gone under, but maintaining the distance-- precarious as it may be--that the crust affords her. A slim volume that packs a subtle but powerful punch.