Monday, June 6, 2011

"Our spirit ever buoyant as we sank" (Albert Saijo)

Steve (friend on the inside) calls to ask if I want him to take the phone to my mother; he'll hold it to her ear. I say yes, I want that. So he introduces me to my mother; "Mahtha," he says in his Bronx accent, "this is your daughta, Susan; she wants to tawk to you." He tells me he's moving the phone to her ear, so I start delivering news to her. Radhika and I are cleaning house; Bryant and Sangha were out camping last night. Lightning, thunder. Hope she feels better. Respiratory problem--then it's Steve again to say my mother responds to my voice, that she's trying to talk back. There was no sound. "Susan wants me to tell you that she loves you," says Steve to my mother. That's how it's done. We know the words and we say them for each other. It takes an Alzheimer's village to repeat these verbal saws because they're all we have. See saws. The back and forth, without the back or is it forth.

As she loses speech, the blog goes out with more facts, fewer meditations. The hospice nurse who calls says there's a DNR for my mother, but is there a DNT? It takes a moment to remember that DNR stands for Do Not Resuscitate. No heroic measures. Should be NHM. DNT is about not transporting her from this place she knows to a hospital. I ask if I can call back; that is not a question I expected. I'm inclined to say yes, but need to talk to my husband.

She says I might want to look into funeral homes. I don't remember paper work about that. Only about Georgetown Medical School. I will ask around, I tell her. Alan Berliner, who made short films about Edwin Honig in his Alzheimer's, suddenly remembers why he called one box Picasso. That was the box containing film of his father making faces, slow faces, fast faces, taking off the glasses faces, the faces that reminded Berliner of Picasso, the painter Freud. But he had forgotten his own code. Until the film now brought it back. Take four. It was film, so there was no sound.

Honig says to remember how to forget. In another clip, he bangs on his chair, keeping rhythm as he arrives at a word that rhymes with jello. Don't you know it, he's a poet. Silliman wonders why facebook readers hit "like" at the announcement of Honig's death.

BODISATTVAHOOD IS A FUCKING JOB LIKE ANY OTHER. Albert Saijo. So now let us be cheerful as we sink. Because there won't be medicare or hospice care or heartland health or the carlyle group to get us through our Alzheimer's. The ship will sink without our buddhas and our bodisattvas, or they will not have insurance. We'll have to be in it for the poetry, the compassion, the non-return on our investments, the lacks of prizes or recognitions, the hard work for its own. Our friend has no space for his wood carvings, so he carries them in his head. This is not a solution. We suggest, considering the cost of living, that he start cutting smaller pieces of wood, making micro sculptures. He says woodworkers like nature, need their space. We feel silly for our practicalities. Know better.

I want to think that Saijo and my mother met in Italy in 1944. I want to think those were his boots she kept in her closet, the ones that fit. I want to think they ate the same bad food, saw the same entertainers, drove the same trucks, watched Vesuvius from the same hill on the same late afternoon. There are less good reasons for relation than history, lots of them. But when she got back from their war, Martha said she had no idea about internment camps. Not the one Albert grew up in, not the others. It wasn't in the newspapers.

I call the nurse back, say I've talked to my husband, yes we'd like a DNT. She sounds relieved, talks about the significance of staying at home. I wonder about transport. Bryant says the Boy Scout skit had a Star Trek theme: "beam me up, Scottie," said one boy, and another brought him a plank of wood. No, that's teleporting. The trans- in transport does not take us anywhere. That must be why it's beyond us.

Ben says Emerson's dementia did not emerge in his language, but in his silences. The time before our lives was infinite, Howe reminds us, and accepting that . . . we inherit an ancestral quiet. Dementia as return, not diminution. It's the round trip ticket we got off the internet. Print out the receipt; evidence of your voyage will come later.

[ed. note: Caroline Sinavaiana asks why I wrote "sank" instead of "sink" in the title quotation. I didn't realize it was an error. I acknowledge that error here, but will leave it above, as misprision is the poet's emotional flag.]

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