Friday, March 4, 2011

Where I've been

I've been working like a mad woman on revising my novel but also, as you'll read below, dealing with my mother's descent into Alzheimer's.  Heart wrenching.

Opening my brother’s specimen room door
to pin a new one to the wall
it always seemed we’d startled a flock
of sunning butterflies.  Wings wide -
palm-leaf green, sky turquoise,
sunset orange, star-lit iridescent midnight -
rising up the walls away,  forever
stilled.  Shadows wavered beneath
them so they seemed to move. Just
a trick of light.

In those days my mother wore
sun yellow, grass green, American-beauty red
silks.  Sleek sheaths, dresses
with tight bodices and skirts that fell
like bell flowers around her knees
fluttering as the ceiling
fans circled.  Sinuous lines of cigarette smoke
rose above the chink of drinks
and cocktail party laughter.  She floated
from group to group. Hostess’s antennae tuned to
too much, too little, too lonely, too late,
she skimmed each clustered group, landed, moved
on, spreading her bright
self wide.  And where she lingered
they stilled and said,
There’s sweetness.

The doctor displays
a cross section of two brains.  “In the normal one,”
he points, “the cerebral cortex and hippocampus
are full.”  The lobes spread wide, full and rounded
with nuances of knowing.  “But here you see….”
The other is an ugly leering face:
its jagged edges draw the unkempt hair;
scooped-out hollows make the vacant eyes, the mouth
hanging open in sleep.  Formaldehyde
also kills without destroying outer form.
I held the jar and watched
my brother put the silken creatures in. I watched them
struggle into stillness.  

This woman moves
uncertainly.  Querulously angry she says
“The maid stole my sweater.
I put it here and now it’s gone.”  She is
so fixed that I don’t even argue.  My mother
would have known that
no one – least of all the pretty Ethiopian
who cleans the floors – stole her old
moth-holed cashmere.  My mother
would have soothed this woman struggling
to make sense of an invisible
thief who is stealing
all her memory.  My mother’s daughter
would have said, ‘That’s nonsense Mama.’
But I just hold my tongue.  I watch
and sometimes see
the shadow of my mother moving
in this stranger, or maybe just
a trick of the light
of my memory.


Claire M. Johnson said...

Words cannot express how sad I am at this. Love you so much.

Elizabeth said...

Thanks dear. You and I have both been through a version of this with our fathers, which was hard enough. But our mothers, they are the columns that held up the house of our lives and the loss is unfathomable.

laurent said...

My mother is at stage 7 right now and my family has gone through it all. It is very difficult and always brings tears to my eyes when I think of her.
It is a dreadful disease and probably hardest on the family who witness it all.


my heart breaks for you and your lovely mother..candles lit, prayers sent.

a thousand shades of twilight said...

What a sad and beautiful and loving piece. So sorry to hear that you are going through this. It must be so hard for you all, I can only imagine. Much love.

David said...

What more can I say but, beautifully written and heartbreaking. I wish I could be of practical help and remember the name of an enlightening book I bought for a friend in a similar situation, but all I can recall is that its thrust is to go with the sufferer and not distress him/her about the nature of the illusions. Beyond a certain stage, that, I guess, is of no help either.

jason said...

It's amazing how you can turn such a heartbreaking thing into something beautiful

more cowbell said...

wow, Elizabeth. Beautifully, hauntingly written.

I remember my grandmother, not with Alzheimers, but a brain tumor, removed that left her - a woman with a masters in English, and an artist - with garbled thoughts that came out as even more garbled words, and without the use of her right arm. She lived with us when I was in high school. I remember my mother's experience, and realize that actually, I know nothing of my mother's experience, even though I lived in the house.

There aren't really any words for something like this, are there?

Sending hugs and good thoughts.

L said...

i'm glad that i didn't read this before now --

but i'm glad that i read it.