A is for Alzheimer’s

Note: Since it is also National Poetry Writing Month (or NaPoWriMo) in addition to the 2017 A-to-Z Challenge, I will try to include a poem at the end of each blog entry. Today’s poem is a Haibun, a Japanese form in which a prose-poem precedes a haiku. 

My mother only eats off of salad plates, and she will only use a salad fork. When we run out of small plates (we only have six and she will not use the one that doesn’t match the rest, the blue one with stars, the sun, and the moon) and small forks, she tells me it is time to run the dishwasher even though it may contain only her six salad plates and her six salad forks. She does not remember that she can wash the plate and fork by hand. She eats off of small plates and she drinks only tea but her teacup goes in the dishwasher rarely. It is brown with discoloration and stains and sticky from the sugar she ladles into her tea.

Her habit of eating off of the small plates is not new. She has been in the habit of using the salad plates for a long, long time now. It comes, I believe, from years of being monitored by my father for overeating. For as long as I can remember, my father scrutinized my mother’s eating habits. When I was a kid, a teenager, I remember going out for ice cream and my dad making my mom get a diet coke while the rest of us had ice cream cones. Divorced for 16 years, she now eats ice cream right from the container. It’s as if not using a bowl means the ice cream doesn’t count, doesn’t really mean anything, will not invite supervision or scrutiny.

My mom moved in with me in September. My brother and I had been fielding reports from her friends and neighbors for several months in which they outlined her memory declines and odd behaviors. She reported seeing Sasquatch in her back yard a year ago in March. She forgot that she had ever played Farkle, a dice game that she played regularly over the past several years with friends and family. She got lost driving and forgot why she went places, her best friend told us.

I expected she would move in with me last June, but she called and refused. She didn’t want to leave her community or her friends. She had book clubs and garden club and Friends of the Library, she said. I had time last summer, time to orient her to Bellingham, time to sign her up for services, time to drive her to appointments. But she couldn’t quite marshal her resources, became overwhelmed at the monumental task of packing up her house, of sloughing off unnecessary items, of sorting through the detritus. My brother and I showed up last Mother’s Day weekend and hauled a ton of stuff to Goodwill and the dump. We divvied up her Waterford crystal and boxed up the china to be auctioned off on Ebay. I prepared her room in my house, but she didn’t come in June. She didn’t come in July or August either. And when I asked, she told me she was too tired to pack, too overwhelmed to organize the boxes.

Her friends kept calling. She shouldn’t be driving, they said. She tells the same stories over and over, they said. As if I hadn’t noticed that. Each phone call was the same as the last. Each conversation might as well have been a recording of the previous one. She couldn’t muster the energy or wherewithal to travel. She had missed Thanksgiving and Christmas the previous years. She told her friends she hadn’t been invited. She told her children she didn’t feel like traveling. I know now that she couldn’t get organized, couldn’t leave her dog, didn’t know what to do to get ready.

My mother eats off of small plates. She only will use a small fork. Her life is getting smaller. The walls are closing in. On both of us.

Haibun
My mother has become an old woman before my eyes, aging into forgetfulness and dementia, a victim now of ancient routines. She flutters toward the light, safe and trapped simultaneously, unable to escape the confines of what little remains, the walls of her cerebrum wiped smooth, scrubbed of the dust and fluff of daily nuances, the surfaces there papered only in history, teflon to what is new. She hunkers inward, shuttering her blinds, while painting on a brave façade.

Memory’s threads fray,
Ragged edges and patchwork
The mind’s makeshift quilt

H is for Haiku

HI figured we all needed a break from mental health for a day. So, since April is not only A-to-Z Blog a Day Challenge Month, Poetry Month, BUT also NaPoWriMo (National Poetry Writing Month), I’m trying to write a poem a day, following these prompts. I’ve done a few, not in order, however, but whenever my muse taps me on the shoulder and drops a few good lines into my lap. Enjoy!

April 1/Day One (which I just wrote today, April 12):
Write a lune, a poem with a 5-3-5 structure (either words or syllables):

I, too, run here blindly
Trusting my feet
Since cataracts cover my heart

April 3/Day 3
Write a poem that is a fan letter to a hero or celebrity. Martina Navratilova’s autobiography, published in the summer of 1985 gave me hope and courage when I felt very alone.

Dear Martina Navratilova,

Love. Love.
That’s the score, right?

Add.
Add-in. Add-out.

Out. Let.
Long.

Rush the net.
Backhand.

Overhead
Smash.

Summer.
1985.

I learned a new language.
Reading you.

Thank you.
Sincerely.

April 4/Day 4
In the spirit of TS Eliot’s The Waste Land, write a poem about the cruelest month.

March is the cruelest month.
I am drenched
In fish and scales–
Watery.
Nearly asphyxiated
Then. Pulled
From the warm
Sloshing where I could
Hear your heart swish,
my own steady with
your beat.
My surrogate,
You cut the cord
And left me to
To nourish myself,
To find breath
On my own.
With gills.

April 5/Day 5
We were supposed to write about heirloom seeds—I wrote about weeds and how what we see isn’t always what it seems. Heirloom seed-like-ish.

Monsters skulk at the garden’s edge
Ten feet tall and hairy

Momma said I shouldn’t cry—
He wasn’t really scary

Dangers lurk in the fertile ground
And nourish dormant seeds

Fallow fields lie quiet now
But soon there will be weeds

I’m currently working on a Family Portrait poem so I can cross Day 2 off my list and move on to Days 6-12. Stay tuned for another mental health break in the not to distant.