Monday, January 31, 2011

Memory Card on PoemTalk on _Dementia Blog_

First, a memory card, part of a George Oppen sequence:

I dreamed one night that I was in a hotel room filled with my books. I had a plane to catch, but I couldn't carry them. Sell them! someone said, but I said I could not. I woke at 3, checked the news of Egypt, then listened to the sound of my own voice cataloguing my mother's books. To each shelf I said no and no and no. It was as if whatever was contained in them was leaking out, as if memory had less to do with the past than with our attitude toward it, the intonation that covers it like red grease. The tail hook down, cables outstretched, you approach the carrier at a furious speed. Your fighter is but one word scrawled on the deck of a ship whose hold is an ambiguous space, full of men and machines and violence. I was here during the war, he writes, I was / in a house near here tho I cannot find it. The past tense of dreaming becomes the present's past: I was. I was here, but now I cannot guide me.

--31 January 2011

Just out this week is a podcast discussion of Dementia Blog. This memory card is a partial response to that discussion. With many thanks to Al Filreis & company, here's the link to this PoemTalk. There's a large library of such talks developing at the PennSound site, so check out any number of them while you're there!

Also out, Poetry Library South Bank Centre's poem of the week, an oldie from Angel Exhaust, which was reprinted in Salt Press's Aleatory Allegories (2000). The Poetry Centre is a wonderful place in the art center that sits on the south bank of the Thames in London.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

DeBaggio/Oppen: An Alzheimer's Writing Experiment

never the chess game the checker game in which the pieces
The words are under control but the letters that form the words squirm in their own directions.
Juggler, why need I invent so much
I have searched for the potent words that announce my coming departure, but I cannot find them.
in the back yard tongueless
Words come when I sit down to write, but they dance away seductively, and meaning and substance disappear quickly.
on the beach in the hissing surf I don't know don't know what to say
I have to be careful to spell correctly but sometimes . . .
poem said you may see the poem spells itself out
Thoughts squiggle and writhe into sentences that disappear before they can be acknowledged.
wordings o my elderly siblings the children running on the beach in the hissing surf I don't know don't know what to say
It is tough work all day to chase words flitting away before they anoint paper with their color. Tyger still burning in me burning in the night sky burning in us the light
I can spell the word "dying" but I do not know what it really means other than the opposite of living. I have experienced living and it has already cost me many words and I have yet to understand it fully.
to become old the innocence
When I am writing, I am someone else looking at me and the world.
The old man In the mirror Startles Me But the young man In the photograph Is stranger Still.
I bleed emotion every hour and play with a tricky shifting alphabet of stumbling words. I have just spent five minutes struggling to spell the word "hour."
And cannot bear to speak of it
I am losing my ability to write. I see the signs of verbal atrophy every day. Cut my legs off but don't take away my ability to think, dream, and write.
In the last month, an arm Stiff, a leg Dragging, his speech Impeded--'You cannot Imagine', he said, 'What has Been happening To me--'
More and more I am unconsciously mixing words that have similar sounds: our and out, would and wood, me and be, to name a few.
the saving ray of strangeness saving ray of exile ray of darkeness ray of light
Almost every minute of the day is destroyed by the struggle to reclaim lost words in my search to communicate. It is a losing battle, but I will sing until no word is left.
that force the words
out of that whirlwind his
and not his strange
words surround him

Night after night strange dreams inhabit my sleep, nights of lost wandering, terror, fear, and mysterious occurrences. These are dreams of confusion, deep, dreadful dreams I categorize as Alzheimer's experiences. In them the man I see is walking, wandering aimlessly, lost and fearful. I wake up screaming, fearing loss of control, hiccupping with fear, breathless with emotion.
I dreamed one night that I was in Northern France in one of the red-brick industrial towns the doors and the windows locked. I knocked on a door and entered and I said to the family I was here during the war, I was
in a house near here tho I cannot find it, it is near, you
can take me there they will know me.
I stood in that room and they would not guide me. I was lost and they could not guide me.
After so many years coddling words, it is now I realize writing carries the blood of memory. boards and the voice of the poem a wandering foreigner more strange
Alzheimer's is like trying to describe air.
the finches at the feeder in Spring yell us us us us does their language contain them The struggle to find the words, to express myself, has become insurmountable. I must now be done with writing and lick words instead.
whereupon curious archangels begin to watch


Text in Arial comes from Thomas DeBaggio's Losing My Mind: An Intimate Look at Life with Alzheimer's.

Text in Courier comes from George Oppen's New Collected Poems, edited by Michael Davidson. I took lines from the poems of the 1970s, whether originally published or not.

Blogger has, as is its wont, further deranged line breaks; I have let these errors be.

Friday, January 28, 2011


Namenda, 5 Mg tablet: Memantine [Namenda] is used to treat the symptoms of Alzheimer's disease. Memantine is in a class of medications called NMDA receptor antagonists. It works by decreasing abnormal activity in the brain. Memantine can help people with Alzheimer's disease to think more clearly and perform daily activities more easily, but it is not a cure and does not stop the progression of the disease. 60 each. 9.00

Spiriva 18 Mcg Cp-Handihaler: SPIRIVA is a once-daily inhaled maintenance prescription treatment for chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). COPD is a serious lung disease that includes chronic bronchitis, emphysema, or both. SPIRIVA treats both conditions by opening narrowed airways. 30 each. 9.00

Alendronate Sodium 70 Mg Tab: Prophylaxis and treatment of female osteoporosis.
4 each. 3.00

Hcl 10 Mg Tab: Donepezil may improve the ability to think and remember or slow the loss of these abilities in people who have AD. However, donepezil will not cure AD or prevent the loss of mental abilities at some time in the future. 30 each. 3.00

Calcium 600 w/Vit D tab: Before you take calcium and vitamin D combination, tell your doctor if you have kidney disease, past or present kidney stones, heart disease, circulation problems, a parathyroid disorder, or if you are pregnant or breast-feeding. 60 each. 7.10

Hct 80-12.5 Mg Tab: FDA has not concluded that ARBs increase the risk of cancer. The Agency is reviewing information related to this safety concern and will update the public when additional information is available. 30 each. 9.00

Losartan-Hctz 100-12.5 Mg Tab: Hypovolemia. Hepatic impairment. Severe CHF (with hypotension or excess volume depletion by overdiuresis). Diabetes. Renal artery stenosis. Asthma. Postsympathectomy. SLE. Gout. Monitor electrolytes. May interfere with parathyroid tests. Elderly. Pregnancy (Cat.C in 1st trimester). Nursing mothers: not recommended. 30 each. 3.00

Total due: 43.10


I am here to mourn memory. --Thomas DeBaggio, Losing My Mind

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Misreading Oren Izenberg

While in Washington a few days ago, I picked up Oren Izenberg's book, Being Numerous: Poetry and the Ground of Social Life at Bridge Street Books. As you will see, I am reading the book unfaithfully; I am not following Izenberg's argument so much as translating it into my own thoughts on writing about dementia. Please pardon my misprisions; they're all I have.

Izenberg is interested in history, but not historicism, poetry but not craft or form. Although his canon is, shall we say, canonical (Yeats, Oppen, O'Hara, the Language writers), he is more interested in noems, or non-poems, than in poetry as poetry. "The persistent production of non-poems asks that we entertain the notion that what the poet intends by means of poetry is not the poem," he argues early on (12). The ground on which Izenberg bases his reading of these non-poems is personhood. Everything we usually consider about poems in the classroom passes away in Izenberg's writing about poetry not as an art but as an investigation of personhood.

My first desire was to identify with his argument; here at last, I surmised, was a writer less interested in form than in meaning, less interested in the structure of poems than in their confrontations with existence. In his own terms, Izenberg is less interested in the conversations people have about poems (as he illustrates in the last chapter) than in the ways in which poems create relationship within the reader, "reorient the person toward a shared world." People are not persons, but persons matter desperately to him.

This desire for identification is not met by Izenberg's thesis. But I found a relationship of fruitful misreading in the last paragraph of his introduction. Writing about Alzheimer's, as I do, is nothing if not writing about personhood, what it is, how it alters, remains, how much it depends--or does not--on reciprocity and "reading." It's writing about existence at the point at which existence is called into question. So I'd like to quote extensively from Izenberg's last paragraph, and then talk to it, person to person-like:

OI: "Poems, like persons, are always going about some business of their own, which in the moment seems much more urgent--and certainly more specifiable than the business of being instances of what they generally, abstractly, essentially are. If the particular business of individual persons is what we mean by living, then the specification of the business of poems is what we generally mean by reading" (38).

SMS: But you are assuming, Oren, that persons are those who have "particular business," which suggests means and ends. By putting persons in parallel with poems, you are further suggesting that any two people conducting their business can read poems (together, apart, or even asymmetrically). What of persons who do not have "business," and who do not "read" poems, or anything else? What of the woman who sat "reading" the newspaper the other day in my mother's Alzheimer's home, looked at a benign headline in the sports section, and uttered a horrified "oh no!"? I can read her "reading" as the correct response to the wrong communication, perhaps, but she is not reading in the way you or I are reading. My response to her is still quite complicated; first I want to know what she is responding to, and then parse out the ways in which she is responding appropriately to a headline that is not in front of her (the murders in Tucson, for example, whether or not she knows about them). At this point it matters more that I know about them, so that her response to the sports headline echoes mine to a rather different headline. We are in concert, but it is not a conscious composition operating between us.

OI: "Taking up debates about collective intentionality within contemporary social philosophy, I propose an alternative to models of poetic community built around conversation, interpretation, or translation. Writing myself into the history of poetic intentions I describe, I also argue for the interest and value (if not necessarily the truth) of a theory of collective intentions that is crucially internalist; it conceives of the ability of forming intentions for partnership-in-action whether or not one has a partner--indeed, whether or not anyone else in the world exists" (38-39).

SMS: I would take that further, because the community I just spent a week living in, or among, or with--the community the comes and goes from the common area in my mother's Alzheimer's home--is not built around any of these things. Talk is most often solitary (with the current exception of the lovebirds), reasonable interpretation belongs to me but not to them, and translation is often impossible. Lacking language, people fall into mystery, a rather different mystery from the kind that usually cloaks them. So yes, the result is "internalist." The partnership I form in the common room is less common in the larger sense than in the private one. I am partnered with myself. The days are spent in conversation: what happened? what might it have meant? in what ways did it fit with other events of the day, or the background sounds of the television? And yet, I would argue that "anyone else in the world exists."

OI: "The ability to recover--by reading poems--a conviction in even the solitary person's innate and 'primitive' capacity to formulate 'we-intentions' may, I suggest, have a transformative effect on one's felt capacities for relationship, and reorient the person toward a shared world" (39).

SMS: This is true for me when I visit my mother. It is not true for her. I try to read her a poem of Keats that she once loved and she looks away. When I hand her a stuffed dog, however, she lights up. Not a reading of poems, but a reading of relationship with something soft, something with big eyes. That's what matters because something is exchanged between her and, if not a being, then the material imitation of one.

OI: "The question that the poets in this tradition pose to social thought is of the most fundamental kind: not how to distribute fairly the privileges of identity, but how to secure the ground of identity; not just of how to do things with persons, but how to know that a person is there at all" (39).

It is not just that I am a postmodernist, perhaps, that I cannot hold to the "ground of identity" in this context. After all, I also live in Hawai`i, where identities are constructed on something like the ground (sand, perhaps). To know Alzheimer's is to know the lack of ground and yet to recognize that there is humanity in its lack, to know that a person is there, if not a personhood, perhaps. There is no fair distribution of privilege in the Alzheimer's home; there are only shades of self-loss.

Izenberg's last sentence: "how to know that a person is there at all," takes on a new urgency in this context. To write Alzheimer's is to acknowledge that a person is there, even if she cannot read you or your words, even if she cannot know what is said about her (is not writer or audience, in other words). To write Alzheimer's is to acknowledge that the "common room" is, indeed, held in common, even if very few conversations occur there. That the common room is a very social space, even for those who have become internalized by their illness. That poetry, or non-poetry, is the fund of memory that sits alongside the vast swatches of forgetting that inhabit the Alzheimer's home. The subject is forgetting, but the writing is all memory. It's as tangled a tale as Shelley's assertion that art and politics rather miraculously align, an assertion about which Izenberg has much that is valuable to say.

The conclusion to the book is as beautiful as it is sad. Sadder yet when the story of his failed relationship, his failed idea of reading together as relationship, gets translated into the failures of Alzheimer's. One may involve psychology, the other biology, but they are analogies. The book's ending (are there spoiler alerts in literary criticism?), when the devoted reader discovers that his partner in reading had stopped some time back, oddly mirrors the feeling I have in dealing with the Alzheimer's residents. Yes, "Life got in the way." We'll all finish another time.


The hospital room, the Alzheimer's home, these are theaters. They are theaters in which the subject is existence itself. What is existence, and is it coming to an end? At what point is existence full and at what point empty? What do all the intermediate states tell us about either end of this frail line?

It was in the theater of my father's last hospital room that I discovered that life at its most extreme (its end) structures itself like a poem. This may be because I am taught to read through poems; perhaps it also resembles engineering, musical composition, landscape design. But my father was speaking poetry. He was speaking the poem in the sense Izenberg means it--it was all about personhood--and in the sense that a poet means it, too--his metaphors had all become true.

In my mother's common room there are scenes upon scenes. They are not simple scenes, but layered, synchronous. So when the lovebirds coo to each other on the couch [see the previous week's blog posts], they echo Bonanza on the television; when Animal Planet runs, my mother pets her "dog." This is not cause and effect, but synchronicity. The television, like the residents, relies on cliches for its power; the shows rely on scenic structures that are none too complicated by themselves (until they are brought into the same space as the common room interactions). Enclosure, repetition, cliche. And an uncommon honesty, too. This is not a paradox.

Izenberg's book is not about my mother, but I choose to read it with and against her existence. I'm glad he writes about persons, and that I can read what he says about them. I'm also glad that there are persons outside of poetry, even outside of non-poetry. To "reorient the person toward a shared world" means that what we share may be a world of poetry, but that it sometimes exists far outside our reading of poems.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Dementia Blogging, 1/16/11: Separation Anxieties

Dinner. S's son and daughter-in-law were leaving; they'd been putting puzzles together with her while we talked politics. We walked to the dining room, where the dance begins.

Where are you going? What am I doing here? I want to go with you!

Daughter-in-law leaves (as cover). Son starts to leave. S gets up and follows. Ma, I gotta leave now, he says, or you won't believe what trouble I'll be in.

I don't care! she says.

I'm going to get a parking ticket, a big one.

How much is the ticket? I'll pay it.

$100 dollahs.

I'll pay the $100 dollahs, she says.

But really, ma, I gotta go. We'll be back tomorrow.

What time?


A caregiver walks over to talk to S, who is seated again. Her son hurries off, though he can't resist greeting each resident by name as he leaves through the kitchen.

This evening I said good-bye to my mother for now. For now is the operative phrase. The woman down the hall was "agitated." Her daughter said it was her time; I heard the word "hospice" as I walked past. Passed by. There's a line in Elizabeth Bishop about past and passing, as if they were conjugations of the same verb. Past and passing and to come, perhaps.

Her neighbor at dinner never speaks, was a translator from Chinese. When she saw my mother's stuffed dog, she laughed out loud. When S saw the stuffed bear I carried later, she said, I'm not scayed of dat! I sold those in my stoah. She poked its nose. She swatted her son with her napkin.

Mom has been more lucid on this visit than on the last, in May. She smiles, she nods, she says yes when yes is called for, no when no is appropriate. Before I leave she says she does not want the bear. No bear.

I say good-bye to the others. I say farewell to J, who pets the dog's tail,good-bye to the lovebirds on the couch,good-bye to E, who rumbles behind her walker, good-bye to F, to T, to S. (I love their old names, which I cannot use here; perhaps one day I'll find them new ones in Most Popular Names 1920ish.) They cluster around me, touch my clothes, the ones who are up. They talk to me in bursts. You fixed it, says F, when I get the snaps right on my jacket. I'm tired. I want to go home to Hawai'i, which is so far away and where the weather is always so good. I do not want to leave them behind. Let behind be now, and again now, and again.

I'll be back in a few months, I say to mom.

[This will be the last live-blogging for a while. Please read this installment in conjunction with the others I posted during this past week.]

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Dementia Blogging, 1/15/11: Love in the Time of Alzheimer's

E & G snuggle on the couch:

E: Arm in arm & hand in hand!
I must stay with you.

G: If you get too affectionate, they'll speak to me. They did before.
Maybe I should take you to your room.

[E murmurs in G's ear, fondles her]

G: We're in a public place. You're very special to me. Can I take you to your room so you can lie down? That might help.

E: [holds her hand & arm] It's you. You're my babe. You're the one.
No one can take you.

G: No one's going to take you away from me.

E: I have the right to love you.


S: [again, again] What am I doing here? Why Virginia? I live in New York. The Bronx.

When asked to sit to watch a movie, S. replies that she's not interested.

When I say to S, we keep seeing each other, she says: I'm not tired of YOUR face.


G: What do you want to do this year?

E: Explore each other.

G: And then what?

E: Explore each other for a year and then work on love. Love making.

G: I haven't made love in many years. I was a good Southern girl, didn't fool around. Why don't you talk to me?

E: I have not found many girls who want to experiment. They have been trained to expect that. They have been the aggressors.

G: You fooled around a lot?

E: I played the games they wanted me to play.

G: But you could've gotten AIDS!! You let girls take advantage of you? How long ago?

E: Years & years & years ago. I put it completely out of my mind.

G: I didn't fool around. Oh, it's hot. I had a very happy social life. In the South, it's very different from up here. I was a good girl. You dress too warmly for a Yankee. I'm a southern shit. Not toots, chick.

E: Chickenshit.

G: At A___ there were six or seven men to every girl. There were big bands. I love to dance!
I taught dance down South, then came to DC. Taught elementary school. Never fooled around.

But I bet you had a happy life & the girls took advantage of you.

E: I don't know.

G: I don't share my goodies with anyone unless they're special. You're my buddy.


G: Are you a happy man?

E: Sure.

G: All the time, or now & then?

E: Now & then.

G: Better to be silly than sad.

E: I agree.


G: I should go lie down again. [They kiss.]

Will you come see me when I go home?
You could sleep on the couch in the living room.
Would you like your own bedroom?
Would you like to sleep with me?

E: I'd rather sleep with you.

G: We'd have to be married first!
You need a shampoo. Your head is oily.

I have a waiting list.
I'm teasing you, I hope you know.


G: Are you married? Are you sure you're not married?

E: I would know.

G: One of the ladies said you were married.

E: Then ask HER.


G: You don't want to live here the rest of your life?

E: What brought that on?
Look out the window. There are trees. I suppose not.

G: Not in a facility. you should live the life you want. God made you perfect, in his likeness. There is nothing wrong with you. You ought to be living the life you're meant to live.

Are you happy?

E: I suppose so. I don't know what you want to hear.

G: I was raised in a talking family.

When you come to my house, I'd like to shampoo & cut your hair. I'll be going home soon, & I'll miss you.

E: I don't know what you're getting at!!

G: Say something nice to me before I leave.



My mother's old neighbors come to visit. He says he has had two episodes of global transient amnesia; says it's something for the blog. They tell mom she looks good, her hair looks good, note that she has a dog, the stuffed one I put on her lap each day; the outside social worker brought it to her. It has big, alien-like eyes. I tell her the dog is Irish, McGuillicudy O'Mallory O'Keefe. They said they came once and took mom's picture. Some neighbors refused even to look at the photograph. They show mom pictures of their kids, their grandkids. The pictures are old, but who's to know? Mom smiles at each image on the back of the neighbor's digital camera. When we leave, the neighbor asks her to wave. He waves good-bye to her, and she waves back. I could do that all day with her, he says.


To each resident belongs a script. There is S, who always asks why she is here. There is F, who mumbles about church, whose sentences start, then stop, then end as other sentences. There is T, depressive in jet black dyed hair, who worries about J in a crew cut, because she slumps over in her chair. They all still say thank you when the medicine comes, or the food. S yells out nouns, usually because she does not want them, sometimes because she does. CHAIR!! Mom is digital, smiles and says yes, or frowns and says no, batting her arm at the person who has leaned in too close.

They all have personalities, I tell the neighbor, though they are not those they had before.

There is love in this common room, the one with the television and the chairs and the couch. There are the remembered lines, remembered roles. She says yes, then warns of danger. He says he doesn't understand, but strokes her hair, her arm, her knee. Sometimes strays. She reminds him to go to the bathroom. He tells her she's the one. One wonders where these scripts come from. Their language is formal, even when they curse. They are once married people speaking as if in teenage dream-time, and yet they talk about their children. They do not speak only of sex; they also talk of love. She leans over him and says she wants to comb his hair, shampoo it, cut it. She learned to cut hair because she didn't like how they cut her husband's. It saved him thousands of dollars.

They talk about what is public and what private, about what is allowed and what is not allowed. And they talk about their right to love each other, to live their lives, to be free of this facility. It is not facile, this talk, even as it turns back and starts again each time they approach the couch. They talk of happiness and sadness, houses and husbands, children, what they want of their future. They talk of marriage, of which comes first, it or sex. This is their salon, the stage on which they perform thoughts the censor cannot find or "correct." This is their symposium, their investigation, their exploration, their philosophical dialogue.

You should have been more quiet, one neighbor said to her husband in the parking lot, because the woman on the couch was saying that her mother committed suicide and her sister, too, so she tries to keep in good spirits. Who knows if it was true.

All of it is. It's the place where stories start, where they fail to reach climax or conclusion or denouement or even the end of a well formed phrase. It's a return to innocence when innocence is no longer possible. Why stop them? Why keep order in the house? Why not let the story end with sex, or what they might remember of it, arms and mouths, legs, the place where she has lost her urine and his releases sometimes unawares.

We wouldn't want to tell their children what had happened, one caregiver explains.

Dementia Blogging, 1/14/11: Headlines

96 year old woman calls in death threat to federal judge from her nursing home bed; he leaves work early, deputy by his side

Man has violent argument with self in a mirror; tries to strangle caretaker

S says she has a home but does not know where it is; "can you tell me what I'm doing here?" she asks

96 year old woman calls her guardian to wish him a Merry Christmas, then adds, "but YOU people don't celebrate the birth of our Lord, do you?"

According to G, her sore knee is a mystery, because she has not been playing football lately

Get the retirement you deserve (the happiest times of our lives are with family and friends) by taking out a reverse mortgage

When the police ask her about her threat against the judge, the 96 year old woman says, "you bet I'll kill that son of a bitch!"

[with thanks to EW, Esq.]

Friday, January 14, 2011

Dementia Blogging, 1/13/11: Going Home

Fred Wah:

This notion that home can operate as a foundation of identity allows that identity (since we seem to need it) might function as some kind of “soul,” part of the baggage we can’t leave (behind, or somewhere else) and that it (identity) therefore needs the constructs of home (place, workplace, school, kitchen, neighborhood, and so forth) eventually, in dementia, as a presence that is absent.

One of my mother's caregivers says there are two things the residents never forget, sexual desire and home. They all remember where they come from, she says. And my mother? I ask. If she were more expressive, yes.

E kisses S's fingers at lunch, thanks her. Her breath is a dusk engine, its gears too audible for comfort. She is loud: she belches, she yells out what she does not want. Luckily, the woman (G) who keeps asking E if he has a line of girls waiting for him to get out fails to notice; she is too busy eating. Her long hair is white underneath its orangey surface.

G wants to help clean up after lunch, but drops the first thing she picks up.

J shows up to check on my mother. We talk about how little response we get from her, how oddly stable she has been over the last couple of years, how she does not know us, how she will not get out of her chair. When J kneels next to mom's chair, mom's face lights up. Yes, she will take a walk. We flank her, take her elbows and walk her to her room. From outside, I gesture in and say, there's a picture of Fred in there. Do you remember Fred? Oh yes, I remember Fred, she says, and smiles. Then the long trek back to the common area. Bonanza is on. Another scene of justice or betrayal.

Do you have more kleenexes? I need more kleenexes, says G. I keep losing my urine.

Those who remember their children's names will tell you. He's a good kid. Sometimes I wanna wring his neck, but he's a good kid. I never done it yet. Her mind isn't right, she says. She makes circles next to her head. Meshugah.

We lose our fluids. We lose our thoughts. We lose our minds. But we do not, it seems, lose that sense of home, even when we cannot express it. Are you going to take me home? is one of the most frequent overheard questions here. I want to go home now. I miss home.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Dementia Blogging, 1/12/11

I can't imagine being home again but I hope to
Would you like to be my roommate,
I don't like living alone
I'll do the cooking; you can cut the grass.

We can both take a beauty nap.


But if you love someone
what they've been or done
in the past doesn't matter


1) G______

2) Bonanza episode, same as yesterday's


Alice Munro, "The Bear Came Over the Mountain":

"He asked about these affections between residents. Did they ever go too far?"


Where am I?
(You are at Arden Courts, in Fairfax, Virginia)

I just woke up from a dream.
It must be a dream, because I don't remember being here.


"You know the kind of man I am, Emily."

"I also know you are the kind man who wanted to marry me, Frank."


Who am I? Where am I? Who put me here?
(You are S. You are at Arden Courts. It was your son. He knows you're here.)

I'll wring his neck. (Makes the motion of wringing a cloth.)
I guess I'll just have to forgive him.

(Was he like this as a kid?)
When he was a kid, I could control him.
He's bigger than I am, but I'll wring his neck.

If che heard me calling him dat
che'd be so mad.


Liberator gave me back the freedom I had before
I used catheters.
Up to 200 disposable catheters per month!
Liberator Medical helped me get my life back.
The same will be true for you.


Me the angry rapper.
You the English language. (Demitri Martin)


Those cited by SOME people for saying CERTAIN things:
Is our political discourse too hot?
The fact that the question is being asked means


"Our prayers are being answered." (Mayor of Tucson)


Listen for the suspect's voice.
He pronounces his name for a judge.
He was quirky and weird, but very intelligent.
He was in a room alone, reading a dictionary.
He has many thoughts about grammar.
Perfect grammar throws off the tyrant.
Imperfect grammar, like his, induces lucid dreams.
The sky was orange and the trees were blue.


Stay tuned for real life pirates
and more on the tragedy in Tucson.


My mother has an odd strength, R says.
She was always hesitant and timid.
I have discovered a hidden strength in my mother.

He holds up Curious George pajamas he has hemmed for her.
He's learned to spot the small women's sizes, sometimes the large girl's.

B says he's got a better eye than the daughters.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Dementia Blogging, 1/11/11, Lovebirds

Fairfax, Virginia, Alzheimer's home, midday.

G (a new woman) & E (a familiar man) sit on the couch together.

--I miss my family. Do you miss yours? Do you miss your son? Do you have a good relationship?

--I don't know.

--You haven't seen him in a long time. But you love him and he you. Men don't always express affection; that's how it is.

--He's 30 or 40. Married? I don't believe so.

--Who does he look like? Does he look like you?

--He's somewhat balding.

--Were you happily married?

--Of course.

--Yes or no? Were you? Quite?



--The day is a little bit dark.

--No it isn't. (So says a woman in gray and black sweater who keeps gesturing at her own breasts.)


--They locked the door to my room. I want to go lie down in my room. I can go lie in my room and you can go lie in yours. They don't want us to touch each other. Don't make them separate us!

--Frankly, I don't give a shit.

--They don't want us to touch, but I like it. You love me, don't you?

--You bet I do. My sweetheart. I'll kick their teeth in.


A man in space talks of the harm we do with irresponsible words. His sister-in-law was shot in Arizona.


--I've never been intimate with anyone except the one I was married to. He died. Would you like to live with me?

--Very much so.

Joe says "36."

--I want to lie down. I have no secrets. My room is locked. Southern girls need their rest.

When I walk by later, she is in her room, tearing paper.

--I'd like to hold you, scratch your hair a little bit.

--Would you like to marry me?

--Yes, I like your touch.

--But you don't want to marry me?

--Yes, I want you very badly.

--Only if you love me.

--I love you, you know that.

--It's a deal!!!!


--I feel very lucky knowing you. I feel God brought us together, don't you? I want to get in my room!!

Joe notices me in a chair: "cetta persona!!!" Turns out he delivered the New York Post in Brooklyn. Speaks Italian, as much as he speaks.

Caretakers L & B laugh about the love birds. L says she's going to find love here too, one day. She has a bad toothache, wants soup so she can take Tylenol. Her ex wanted her back, but she said no. She's going to find love. Won't have to do the cooking. She says this as she sorts through a library of pill sheets, takes notes on them. B prays everyday she doesn't end up like them. She does not want to lose her mind.

Love happens all the time here. Sometimes the men's wives get very upset. I never want to see him with that woman ever again, they'll say. They don't understand the disease, L says.

Bonanza is on TV. A woman falls for a man and they decide to marry. His name is Frank, but he is not. He lies to her. She is stricken by grief. Another man died on the eve of her wedding to him, and now this. Before she is betrayed she tells him: But when you love someone, what they've been or done in the past doesn't matter. But then it does.

E approaches his love, who is now lying on the couch, her bad leg out on a chair. She is calm. When she beckons him, he leans to hug her, his face bright. He has a fresh stain on the front of his gray running pants. You dropped some water on your pants, she tells him, you should go change them.

There are crutches for all of us, the star tells Emily, who lies stricken on her bed. You had the crutch of grief for all those years, and he had the crutch of lying. He has had humiliation and courage both. And you will not marry him now?

They meet in the dusty town square. She tells him she still loves him, wants to marry him. He is surprised, but he does not leave. They get into the carriage and ride off, as the credits begin to scroll. They are happy again. They are getting married. You were always a man of action, Frank, the star says to the man.


My mother sits through these scenes, quiet, face tilted toward the television. She had an MA in drama, though she'd tell the cafeteria servers she studied speech, because the drama students had a certain reputation, you know. She is the still point in the room. She is wearing a San Miguel de Allende teeshirt and needs new slacks; her brown ones are coming apart at what seams are left. She smiles and says thank you. S's son says that means she understands things. Do I agree? he asks. No, I say, I think she likes you.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Word Magic, or Vowels To Live By

I spilled my banana
, our three year old visitor kept telling me. When I parse this wonderful mistake, I find that "spill" shares its consonants with the expected word, "peel." From "peel" to "spill" is not far to go in vowel sounds, even if it represents a huge conceptual leap, one that liquifies the banana in question. For more on such errors, please go back to this post from February.

We spent last night with family, which now includes a teenager from Lebanon, he who yelled the word "AWESOME" several dozen times during the evening of pops and bangs and celebratory explosions. When I asked him and his friend from Yemen--a young man who asked to be called Braddah Eez, after Braddah Iz (short, one notes with irony, for Israel)--to explain Arabic poetic forms, he wrote a verse for me. Then, underneath it, he made a pattern of zeros and short slashes to denote the vowels. He told me that each verse that followed had to contain the same vowel pattern. Hence, each line after the one in which little Jonathan "spilled his banana" would require the same pattern of vowels: i i a a a (with two different sounds for "a"). In that way, the mistake involved in transposing spilled for peeled might itself become a form.

I just finished David Abram's The Spell of the Sensuous, a book whose argument I don't always "buy" (in that awful way consumerist language applies to ideas), but admire greatly for its persistence, its insistence that we attend to the world before us, its "ordinary affects," as Kathleen Stewart calls them. But, while Stewart looks for her affects in diners and stores, Abram looks for his in the natural world. He argues that the move from oral indigenous cultures to western literate ones, a move characterized by a shift from sound to picture to alphabet, has removed us from the magic that resides in nature, and created a space of utter abstraction. Call that space-that-is-not-a-space heaven, or idea, or technology, it comes out of the letters that we write, marks that have no relationship to the world they attempt to describe, let alone breathe within. (It's to Abram's credit, I think, that he looks for a way back through the very tradition he's critiquing, using phenomenology as his guide to a more sensuous perception of the world as present, not removed into past or future tenses.) Part of his story is about how vowels appeared in writing. For Abram, Hebrew/Semitic writing, which is all consonants until the reader supplies the vowels, is closer to the oral tradition than are those languages (like the one I'm using now) where vowels are pre-installed for easy reader access. I don't have to use my imagination to re-read my words here, nor employ my breath as a part of my imagining.

So there we sat last night, our friend carefully charting the vowels below his verse, explaining that the key to this Arabic poetic form was in the reproduction of these vowels. It goes like this, the verse first and then the vowel sounds below (as I gather):

فوددت تقبيل السيوف لأنها لمعت كبــارق ثغرك المتبسم

o//o/// o//o/// o//o/// o//o/// o//o/o/ o//o///
متفاعلن مستفعلن متفاعل متفاعلن متفاعلن متفاعلن

البحر: الكامل

عنترة بن شداد

With Aardvark wishes,

To reproduce vowels is not to reproduce meaning, only the possibility of it. Jonathan's "spill" could migrate into "pill" or "till" or any other word with the short i sound. Christian Bok's Eunoia comes to mind as a place where such wordplay occurs outside this ancient form, or what our friend in his second language English called "what old people use." (His compulsive declarations of "awesomeness" in everything mark the extent to which he has become local in his language use, however.) And there's hiphop, where lyrics are written, but then performed orally, in a kind of DMZ between the oral and literate traditions. Or there's Wordsworth, reputed to have composed his very literate poetry orally on long walks through the countryside. Perhaps that rural dream is just an urban legend, don't know.

Meaning's creation, then, often depends on the transposition of vowels, on those letters that Abram points out are breathed, rather than on those that seem more fixed. Projective verse may be written down, but it aspires to orality. The mind turns to poetry, which thrives on transposition, where there are no mistakes because something inevitably come of and from them. Abram, too, thinks of poetry in these terms. In a recent interview he notes that he chose not to write The Spell of the Sensuous in poetry, because poetry is not taken seriously in our culture. (It's just that important!) Abram:

Well, it was very important to me to write a book that would speak to the so-called "experts," to write a book that couldn't be shrugged off as fiction, or as "mere" poetry. Not that I believe there is anything "mere" about poetry, but so many people in our culture do — they tend to think of poetry as a kind of secondary use of language. We don't realize that language originates in poetry and in poetics, and ends up there.

In this way, poetry is like magic; where Abram locates magic in the ordinary lives of indigenous people (in their medicine, for example), he finds western magic only in places like Las Vegas, where it becomes entertainment. The extra-ordinary is less interesting to him than is the ordinary. One of many ironies is that in order to communicate with a larger community--he sees this community as one of scholars, which I find lovely and odd--Abram uses the languages of philosophy and memoir. Their languages are less creative than is poetry's lingo franca (sic); any of the mistakes I've mentioned above would be considered typos by his editors. So, even though he tells his interviewer that he "wanted to do an animistic analysis of rationality and the Western intellect, and to show that our Western, civilized ways of thinking are themselves a form of magic," his book de-creates the magic that he wants us to return to. Audiences, in his view, are not magical, but must be told to look for magic in ways that lack its sleight of hand. See me fooling you, he seems to say, and only then can you find the real magic in the natural world, a magic that does not fool, but sustains you.

Slight of hand.
Sleigh of hand.
Slay of hand.
Slew of hand.
Slow hand.

And so on.


I suggested to our Lebanese friend that he read poetry in English; he shook his head no.

Another member of our party (one of whom I am especially fond) said, "thank goodness not all poetry is like yours, Susan."

Years ago, I would have minded these moments horribly, nursed them over many days. I used to internalize others' fear of poetry as an aggression against me. I see poetry fear now as a fear of magic, terror that meaning will be thrown up in the air, juggled, and then spilled on the floor like balls, or like bananas. Code orange for the poetry terror level. But last night ended with a happy alphabetic romp, one that assures me there was poetry at play, even if none called it that. I suggested that our friend replace his "awesome" tic with another word, like "aardvark," adding that aardvark was a word famous less for representing an odd animal than for coming first in the dictionary.

I return to the notion that Jonathan's spilled banana could generate a new pattern, were it introduced into the Arabic verse form our friend explained to me. For at that point, as awesome morphed into aardvark, the alphabet itself became magical. The old year was becoming new, history turning back to myth.

Happy new year! Hope it's incredibly aardvark!