Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Dementia & AWP (no link, save the ampersand)

While I was away in Denver last week, I got an update from my mother's intermediate caregiver, the woman on the outside of her Alzheimer's home who checks up on her, makes sure she has clothes, sends me notes. This social worker has discovered over recent months that my mother can be fierce, will shoo her away when she gets too demanding (wants her to take a walk, for example). The last time I saw mom was in January, when she did little but sit in a chair, slumped over to her right, to stare into the community room in her residential wing.

This latest update:


I am due to see your mom tomorrow. The staff at Arden Courts got in touch with me to discuss possibly getting a hospice consultation for your mom. Hospice is not only for when people are actively dying and can offer a lot of additional support and supervision for clients. Your mom is still the same at this time, no real change. They thought it would be nice for her to have the additional support. She eats fair and is not that involved or interested in activities anymore. Her weight is stable though. My thoughts are, she may not qualify at this time, but I wanted to get your thoughts on having them do a consultation. [signature removed]

I reread it for the phrase "Hospice is not only for when people are actively dying." "Actively dying." I know what it means, but I want to parse it. Is her dying then passive? Is that what dementia is, an inactive verb for dying?

There has been such a slowness to her passing. It can hardly be called "passing," almost a permanent way station on the way to not being in her chair, not not seeing what is before her, save a few photos to make her smile (a dog, a cat, a child).

My friend Joe Harrington's personal and political histories run parallel tracks; his mother died the day Pres. Nixon resigned. Co-incidence to mark historical specificity. Given (and taken) a moment to contemplate for a lifetime. My mother exceeds her parallels now. Her passion for politics died, but she did not, yet, not actively in any case.

I ask my students to think about the larger problems their favorite tropes pose to them. Metaphor totalizes, is imperial in its force (we're reading Walcott's Omeros, where that matters), anaphora annoys, repetition treadmills, oxymoron cannot decide. The forces of our tropes to appropriate, to claim, to render same, like malls in the suburbs, their adobe faces bland approximations of others. My mother has no tropes now. Was irony, was sarcasm, was pun ("the lowest form of humor," she would say, adding a line about nuns and habits). Is now cliche, spent shell casing, language lab English. "I'm so glad you called and everything's ok."

I call home and Radhika calls me "grandma." It's mom, I say. "Hi, grandma," she says, laughs.

Family as translation: we give or adopt life, watch to see how children take up our language. We are not literal translation, now homophonic catachresis. There's something in the air, Bill says to my report that Claudia homophonically translates women troubadours. We are not the same; we have travelled.

I say I publish indigenous writers but not as indigenous writers. Family is not blood, even where blood linked me to my mother. Is now past resemblance. Though her voice resembles itself once the telephonic dusk clears.

In her inactive dying I say yes, have the consultation. As member of the Graduate Program Committee, I imagine her applying for a spot in our program. Her application needs the active verb to fly. Her application may be sent back. She may get a better offer elsewhere. She may worry there's not enough diversity in heaven. She may not choose.


The only guerrilla action at AWP this year occured when I was in the women's room and heard a woman screaming "motherfucker" at the top of her lungs, along with several other multisyllabic sweetnesses. Turns out she was standing on a chair in front of the Cave Canem booth reading a poem about her grandmother. Otherwise, AWP provided its usual official celebrations of the mainstream, with off-campus readings that were a bit more funky, including the Meadowlark Event I linked to Joe Harrington's blog about yesterday.

This year's AWP in Denver saw me chained mostly to my table under the klieg lights of the Convention Center in a vast hall adjacent to this year's Auto Show whose food spreads were better, whose price of admission was higher, and whose clientele test drove cars with enormous engines around a tiny block to a lot across from the Hyatt. My neighbors and housemates (at my cousins' Sue and Rick) were Bill and Lisa Howe, whose Slack Buddha press is an amazing DIY production. They publish wonderful writers between lovingly silk-screened covers. Sales were far better than they had been in last year's panic economy. I was also on a panel about publishing indigenous and Latin American poetry. Most of my panel mates were associated with Salt Press's Earthworks Series, and ended up at the table on the other side of me. Brandy Nalani McDougall signed books for a while on Saturday morning.

I took photos of everyone who bought a Tinfish book, and some who merely touched them. I love these photos for the way people held themselves and their books: one large young man held his proudly, like a little kid clutching a new toy; others held books at a distance; some frowned and pretended to read, while others held several purchases in a fan-shaped array. Here are just a few of the photos. You can see all of them at my public facebook link here.

Here are Brandy McDougall (r) and Ching-In Chen (l); Deborah Miranda (l) and Tim Denevi (r); Joe Harrington (l, in Cards cap) and Leonard Schwartz (r, in trench coat); Janna Plant (l) and unknown young man whose photo I love (r).

Tinfish Press is going through some changes at the moment, so I'm not certain how many publications we'll be getting out in the next year, beyond the forthcoming Dandelion Clock by Daniel Tiffany and Tinfish 20, which will be our last issue of the annual journal. Our art director, Gaye Chan, is leaving us after 13 years of doing brilliant work and mentoring young designers. She will be greatly missed; this collaboration has been one of the highlights of my career. I intend to keep the press going, if perhaps at a slower pace, and am also feeling some burn out (mostly over the budget and staffing situation at my institution) So perhaps I won't be in DC next year. But we'll see.

1 comment:

Andy Godefroy said...

I love this paragraph and how it binds life together into a cohesive something that is similar in all of its stages.

"In her inactive dying I say yes, have the consultation. As member of the Graduate Program Committee, I imagine her applying for a spot in a program. Her application needs the active verb to fly. Her application may be sent back. She may get a better offer elsewhere. She may worry there's not enough diversity in heaven. She may not choose."