Thursday, April 27, 2006

Death Sentence?

I think I'm turning a corner, coming to terms with the sadness of Alzheimer's in a new way. I've said from the beginning that Abe and I are just living in a different kind of normal, but certainly there is a standard Normal just as there is a standard morality (well, that's getting into shady territory too. One person can not tell another what's right and wrong, except thou shalt not kill, I suppose). It’s not "normal" to forget all you’ve ever known - especially your professional knowledge base - or where you live or the directions to the bathroom inside your own home once you’ve found it or who you are. And he knows who he is. Who I am. Who the people who come to see him are.

A few weeks ago, I wrote that Alzheimer’s need not be a death sentence, that other parts of us are as valuable as the mind. They mean too. The personality, the spirit: the sweetness and goodness that still are. The sense of values. The belief or un-belief in god and the Democratic party. But today I realize and admit that Alzheimer's is a death sentence.

It is. It takes the mind, steals it from the self. I generally make the best of life's exigencies and that is good; but in another sense I am guilty of denial, saying everything is ok when it’s not, that I can handle this – and I can even when I can’t, but to expect myself to go on with the ordinariness of life is pushing it.

I guess this is why doctors and social workers screamed nursing home, nursing home, assisted living facility assisted living facility. Fear of caregiver burnout. And that’s true, more than just possible; it’s true.

Still, I want something in between: more people on board, more folks not to give up on him, on us. I actually find it harder to deal with people we run into who say, “Oh, I must call you. We’ll do lunch,” then run away than I do confronting this disease. Isn’t that funny.

I never dreamed I would be so disappointed in people; and actually now that I'm writing once again I know that Alzheimer's is really only a death sentence when other people make it so.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

I went for a walk in the neighborhood last night and paid witness to the tulips and periwinkles. He was sitting in his chair watching television when I left. Our new live-in helper was with him. They had just turned on 60 minutes when I walked out the door. This was the first time in I-don't-know-how-long that I was able to go for a fast-paced walk by myself after dinner, and at first I thought the world had changed. But when I came home an hour later and saw him sitting in that same spot, with the same affect, I felt the old familiar sadness return, the same sadness I felt a few hours earlier when I was taking his blood pressure and realized that he no longer understood the meaning of the numbers I was reading. When I got him to bed I thought I would work at my writing but my mind will not go there. It is in bed with him wondering what language Alzheimer victims dream in.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Ars Poetica

A poem should be palpable and mute
As a globed fruit

As old medallions to the thumb

Silent as the sleeve-worn stone
Of casement ledges where the moss has grown -

A poem should be wordless
As the flight of birds

A poem should be motionless in time
As the moon climbs

Leaving, as the moon releases
Twig by twig the night-entangled trees,

Leaving, as the moon behind the winter leaves,
Memory by memory the mind -

A poem should be motionless in time
As the moon climbs

A poem should be equal to:
Not true

For all the history of grief
An empty doorway and a maple leaf

For love
The leaning grasses and two lights above the sea -

A poem should not mean
But be

-- Archibald MacLeish

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Pesach Poem, 5766 (2006)

Erev Pesach, 14 Nisan

I am from a place of long ago
where women held timbrels
and danced by the sea.
My name is not Miriam
and Moses was not my brother
but I carry their hearts within me
and hold their hands
as I sing.

-Esther Altshul Helfgott

Monday, April 10, 2006

Early Morning Fragment

I awaken this morning feeling fat and lax.
I don’t know how long we can go on this way,
how long I can. Holding on is the ripple,
the small sound, the slip of a turn or move-
ment, the hope in the night.
But ripples dissipate. They fade.
And what remains is chore,
the same as yesterday:
getting him up
for breakfast news-
paper, forget the change of clothes
the shower, just get him fed ...

This is an early morning fragment.
I’ll finish later when a ripple

-Esther Altshul Helfgott

Saturday, April 08, 2006

Alzheimer Couple

They have grown
into each other
like two plants
in a small pot.
Arms and legs
the same
they wait
for some
to water

-Esther Altshul Helfgott

Written in response to Gwendolyn Brooks' The Bean Eaters which I used as a trigger poem in class Friday.

The Bean Eaters

They eat beans mostly, this old yellow pair.
Dinner is a casual affair.
Plain chipware on a plain and creaking wood,
Tin flatware.

Two who are Mostly Good.
Two who have lived their day,
But keep on putting on their clothes
And putting things away.

And remembering . . .
Remembering, with twinklings and twinges,
As they lean over the beans in their rented back room that
is full of beads and receipts and dolls and cloths,
tobacco crumbs, vases and fringes.

-Gwendolyn Brooks

Saturday, April 01, 2006

Sam Hamill, Copper Canyon Press

Seattle P.I.
March 31 '06

Dear Editor:

As a Seattle poet, I appreciated John Marshall’s article (March 30th) covering Copper Canyon Press’s history and development, but I take issue with his one-sided characterization of founder Sam Hamill as “a cantankerous, abrasive person, who often seems steeling for a fight and usually finds it.” I’ve never been a card carrying member of the Sam Hamill fan club (and it is a large one), but in terms of Copper Canyon’s success as an international poetry house, representing the likes of Mahmoud Darwish, Ruth Stone, Ted Kooser, Lucille Clifton, Octavio Paz and a host of others, Hamill’s “outsized personality,” as Marshall describes it, is quite beside the point. He built the press and deserves more credit than Marshall gives him.

Esther Altshul Helfgott

(Note: John Marshall of the P.I. is not the John Marshall of Open Books).