Dementia

I’ve a friend by the name of Seth Haines. He’s a good man, and an equally good poet. He recently submitted this poem to Ruminate Magazine’s poetry contest. It wasn’t selected, which is the risk we poets take when we enter such contests, we’re aware of that, and we keep on entering anyway. But it ticked me off that this poem didn’t make the cut, because I believe its a fine poem. Had I been the judge for that contest, I would have chosen it. And so you know, I am posting this of my own free will, nobody’s twisting my arm, I’m not sure they could if they wanted to. No, I’ve no desire to be some sour graper, but rather a sweet reminder-er to us all that some of the best poetry being written these days is not winning contests or going viral schmiral all over creation. Keep at it, Seth. Ruminate missed a winner with this one.

 

Dementia

 

He asked for the third time who organized this dinner,

who scheduled its courses of salad, the pizza

with whole basil leaves; who’d ever seen pizza

with whole leaves of basil? This He asked

for the third time.

 

His thumb and forefinger held a tremoring fork;

the back of his hand shivered, even in the blanket

of April’s warm humidity. Skin thin as purple onion peel

stretched over bird bones, everything forgetful of youth—

this is the way all men grow into dust.

 

 

It was his son we were celebrating, I said.

He’s a good boy, he said, then asked again

who it was that organized this pizza with

the whole leaves of basil, the courses.

The man with the long hair, I said into his ear;

he smiled, said the man must be a good man.

 

He was a fisherman in his younger days,

he said this automatically, as if reading

the pages of his autobiography, or a stop sign.

There were redfish, snapper, flounder.

There were cabins and bars, big times

with small women from town smelling of slime.

There was his son, on occasion. A good boy,

this John. He was proud this good boy,

now a man who’d organized this dinner.

 

The waiter brought a third course—

ice cream, vanilla laced with lavender.

Spoon to mouth, he closed his eyes

and drifted past Matamoros and into the Gulf.

Smiling, he leaned over and said in my ear,

this is the stuff.  His hand to my knee,

he thanked me, called me son,

then with the eyes of a cooing baby,

he rocked.

 

Who organized this dinner,

he asked again. Your son, I said,

and he nodded, knowing, or unknowing,

but proud again, five times over.

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15 Comments

  1. Diana Trautwein on August 2, 2017 at 9:33 pm

    Oh, well done. Both of you. Thank you.

  2. Gretchen on August 2, 2017 at 9:58 pm

    Wrenches the heart in a most beautiful way.

  3. Annie B on August 2, 2017 at 10:07 pm

    Painful and beautiful poem.

  4. Sheila on August 2, 2017 at 10:15 pm

    Thank you! Not a subject one would ordinarily approach poetically. Yet perhaps one which needs the eyes and heart of a poet to fully appreciate. ‘Tis the poet who calls us to see things rightly.

    On the subject of dementia, I have found these words particularly helpful:

    Well may this body poorer, feebler grow!
    It is undressing for its last sweet bed;
    But why should the soul, which death shall never know,
    Authority, and power, and memory shed?
    It is that love with absolute faith would wed;
    God takes the inmost garments off his child,
    To have him in his arms, naked and undefiled.

    ~ George Macdonald (1824-1905),
    Diary of an Old Soul [1880]

    • Samantha on August 5, 2017 at 6:18 pm

      Thank you for this. It cried and sang and left a mark.

  5. Andrew Budek-Schmeisser on August 2, 2017 at 10:52 pm

    Heartbreakingly beautiful. So glad you posted this!

  6. Marilyn Yocum on August 3, 2017 at 3:10 am

    SO glad you posted this, John. I might never have read it otherwise, and I’d have been the poorer for it.
    The poem really seems to esteem the old man, and not just in past tense, his life enriched this very day by being proud five times over instead of just once.

  7. Eve on August 3, 2017 at 5:18 am

    Absolutely beautiful! Blessed are those treated with kindness. Blessed are those who practice kindness.

  8. Jeannie Prinsen on August 3, 2017 at 5:30 am

    That is just beautiful. I’m so glad you shared it. I always enjoy Seth Haines’ writing but only recently realized he wrote poetry.

  9. Beth Baswell on August 3, 2017 at 5:43 am

    So very tender–just beautiful!!

  10. […] posted it on his site of stupendous poetry. (You really should spend some time there.) So today, I’m here to ask you to go there. And if you need a bit of a foretaste of my non-award winning poetry, read […]

  11. Gwen Jorgensen on August 3, 2017 at 7:17 am

    Oh thank you. Dementia had not previously been in my family, until, both my folks, at same time. It developed five years ago. Dad left us last summer. Mom here, but wanders far back into childhood, before she knew her children. I’m around many dementia patients, now, daily, because of visiting my mom. I fall in love with these wandering souls. I enjoy their laughter, and am often brought to tears by their bewilderment and grief. And my own parents; things they used to remember, I caught, and held, so I could give those times back, when, and if they asked. Slowly, now, my mom’s gaze is not here, sometimes fleetingly with me, but increasingly withdrawing.

    Oh, Seth, you said it so well. And, John, thank you for sharing. I know many needed to hear your words.

  12. Amber Haines on August 3, 2017 at 7:21 am

    It’s so beautiful, isn’t it?

  13. Patricia Emmons on August 3, 2017 at 8:54 am

    Beautiful! Thanks for sharing

  14. Jessica on August 3, 2017 at 10:47 am

    I love it.

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