Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Dementia, part deux

I was sitting in a wooden rocking chair reading poetry books acquired at AWP. One of the residents, a woman who sucks gums behind her sunken cheeks, walks at a forward angle, came over to me and put first one worn hand, then the other, on the arms of the chair. She stared at me, nearly chin to chin, muttered a few words I did not catch. I looked down and read section 10 of Chad Sweeney's _An Architecture_:

the nouns are verbs
conduit between I and I

from which the fish the fowl--

into it
a face

breaks on the well water
source and structure

--the double

a thrush's voice

of the body and be
yond the body

is the meaning of our talk

and then in section 28, the ending:

art is

the ghost between us

I cannot say that I have read his book, but sections of it became mirrors to my day with the Alzheimer's residents.

Another woman, older than my mother but not by much, admired my blue Obama 44 bag, wondered if I had had to go to school to learn how to make it. I was tempted to say I went to school so as not to know how to make it, but watched her instead as she examined the bag, commented on it with other cut narratives mixed in.

This last woman talks a lot, about her sister Charlotte, about bags, about the knocking on a door she thinks is for her, but it's as if the momentum of talk leads her to confront constant obstacles. She runs out of words, falls silent, begins again another story. My one class had not heard the term "mother tongue" but what do we call it when we lose the authority of that tongue? Mother loss? For that it is.

I noted to a Korean woman that she has grandchildren. She smiled and tried to say something to me, but could not. She turned her attention to her neighbor's rice, which had spilled off her plate. The neighbor moved the grains of rice to the place mat on the other side of the plate.

My mother sits quietly all day, recovering from pneumonia. While the others nap in their chairs, she sits awake. Occasionally she smiles, or looks unhappy when someone talks about her ("they really should shave her chin," said a volunteer ombudsman, as my mother visibly ignored her).

I opened and scanned books by Sweeney, Joseph Lease and Patricia Smith, the last two from Coffee House. Lease's book takes on the economy of glut and superficiality of the past many years; Smith's offers us the voices of Katrina (herself!) and of those caught in her path. There's the story of Luther B, a dog who dies in the storm, as well. Good to see such serious content out there, but strange to open these books in the surreal waiting room (for that it seems) of the Alzheimer's home.

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