Thursday, September 16, 2010

Play Editor, Please

I'm looking for input. Tonight I'm doing a reading of selected poems about my mother and the last months of her battle with Alzheimer's Disease. My selection needs to be reduced by two poems. Which two of these do you suggest I cut? No need to explain unless you'd like to. A simple "X and X" would be a big help. [See my note below for a tally of the votes at 5:25 p.m.]

Alzheimer’s Poetry
From a Line Uttered By My Mother

Oh I can smell the sound
a freesia makes in its sweet purity
It is the sound of all life has to offer
in one fragrant package of petals
It is the sound of roots growing
deeper, the sound of joy,
the smell of music swelling
on the breeze from the west

I Tried Laying Hands on My Mother

On the bony forehead rests a hank of hair
Cheekbones loom over a sagging chin
and a gaping slash of mouth

I brush back the thatch of white
But it falls through my fingers
I touch the knobby bones that rise
like hills above the sunken cheeks
Every movement of my hand is forced
against a tide

Suddenly I remember my daughter
at the age of five, lying on her bed
with the nightlight on. Her eyelashes
make little wings on her cheeks
I draw on her soft face with a finger
and I sing a monotonous song:
I’m skiing down your nose and skiing
round your mouth …I’m skiing round
your cheeks and up around your eyeballs

She lies still as a statue
while my fingertip skis over her face
and I love it, she loves it, she asks
for this. And this I can’t give
to my mother, lying still as a statue
on her bed. My hand will not allow it.

Mom Says Goodbye

After Alzheimer’s destroyed you,
you had one glowing day, clear as sunshine,
when your blue eyes twinkled at me.
Your face was beautiful in its ancient joy.
You reached up and cupped my face
in your hands, smiling as you studied me.
It’s wonderful, you said, and I knew
what you meant.


For a moment before
I asked you what was wrong
a sensation of otherness
swept through my blood
and my hand rose to stop
the words. Call it intuition,
that odd foreknowledge
of my life about to break
in half.
But my hand stopped
midway to my mouth
and the words tumbled out.
Why? Was I suddenly brave?
If so, courage deserted me
when I saw your head begin
to turn and your mouth moving.
A suitcase swam through the air
on flippers like a seal,
caught you on your forehead
and knocked you to the floor.
It swam out the open window
and I never saw it again
although I called and called

Your Dance of the Final Days

Your chest rises and falls rhythmically, I see
glancing at the narrow bed across the room.
It is anyone’s room, a blue sea of carpet,
a drawn window shade, but here is your old
cedar chest, scarred by the memories inside.
Here is your plywood sewing cabinet,
crafted by your father, its varnish worn.
Here I sit in your squeaky office chair
with the slash of duct tape on its vinyl seat
and its rusty chrome wheels. I watch you
sleep, your labored breathing drowned
by the hum and hiss of oxygen, afraid to look
away. The bedclothes might stop rising
and you slip off, me unaware, intolerable
thought. I want to see you should you slide
from the bed and do a jig across the floor.
I never saw you dance in all these years
but there’s no telling what you’ll do.
You have surprised us all before.
You surprise me now with your tenacity
my skeletal lioness, chomping the neck
of the very last giraffe.

“Do Not Resuscitate”

When you left, you took
my vital signs with you
and I arrived at the rest
of my life without a pulse.

Pneumonia Sucks

1 a.m.
fever rising
rattle my bones
rolling, moaning
lungs gasp
like broken bellows
no one knows
I crouch here
on the couch
everyone sleeps
safe, secure
like they were
last week while
you and I
fought for your death
three long nights
days that bled
into each other
strange I should
fight to breathe now
as if my lungs
with yours
they re-enact
your last act
but I realize
how much I gave you
simply being

In the End

The ocean’s gray furrowed brow
reminds me of my brother’s face
when he turned to look unseeing
through her window
the day our mother died

Something marched across his face
in regimental rows, something quiet
but relentless, a failing general
reviewing his troops in calm despair
before that final, inevitable loss.


Thank you so much for considering my question and writing such thoughtful replies.

I don't know how other poets know when they've found the words and images that give a reader the experience that matters most to me: that sense of having participated in something so powerful, they feel it, and they feel it within the context of their own lives.

I don't know what happens in your head when you read my poems. I don't how to find out except to put it out there and ask. You've been generous with your time, and I'm grateful. You told me what I asked to know. See comments for the vote.


Brian Miller said...

ok, hard choice...i would cut inevitable and pneumonia...

the first i a keeper, as it makes it personal to your mother...the second brings it back to you...third ties you together...the fifth, the battle...six rips your heart out...and the final is the release...

for me it came down to how they told the story together. figured understanding my thought process might help...

Lorenzo said...

Chris, before I say which two, please know that the decision is based on the strength of the others not on any shortcoming in the two. I would leave out "pneumonia sucks" and the first one from a line uttered by your mother.

But please do me a favor. No, not please, I will use the imperative. Do me this favor: when you get home tonight after the reading, read out loud the two I have suggested you leave out. They are no less deserving of being read than the others on this special night.

And hold and your blog friends close to you when you do the reading, both the readings, ¿OK?

the walking man said...

Nope you do your own work on this one because you have a tone in mind you want to set. Put that thought into concrete then you will know what to omit.

The Bug said...

Well, I think you already know - because I read them all, not remembering the example you gave - & decided that 4 & 6 were the ones I would leave out. That's if you absolutely HAVE to leave something out :)

Rachel Fox said...

Just make sure you don't cut number 3! That's the stand-out one for me.

Lyn said...

All and each is profoundly moving, exquisitely crafting a monumental moment in your journey. What to pick?! I could whittle it down to 4 and only because they are the ones that spoke directly to my personal experience.
3,4,6,and 8

I love the simplicity and truth of Mom Says Goodbye -- "It’s wonderful, you said, and I knew
what you meant."

Bless you - so happy I found your blog.

Dianne said...

I love them all.
I especially love the ones I have not heard. perhaps there will be time for more if you are the last to read.

Helen said...

They are all moving and quite amazing. I would like to have you on stage as long as possible .... therefore I would eliminate the two shortest pieces.

Wish I could be there ........

Totalfeckineejit said...

One and three. BVut ak seven people and you will get seven diofferent answers.Only you can decide.They are all brilliant by the way and one or two I would love for PB 2.!

Syd said...

I would cut DNR and pneumonia sucks. Just were not as powerful for me as the others. I hope it all goes well. Beautiful evocative work.

Jess Mistress of Mischief said...

X 4
X 6

e said...

They are all good, Chris. If I were to cut, it would be 6 and 7, but not because they are inferior in sny way. I would read them aloud and see which ones you prefer that way. Good luck with the reading.

Teri and the cats of Furrydance said...

The two: #1 and #4...the others are so accessible and real for anyone who has gone through this journey.

C.M. Jackson said...

Chris--all wonderful --I would cut 1 and 7 not because they aren't wonderful but just that the remaining poems are more wonderful--good luck with your reading--c

Enchanted Oak said...

I had fun marking the manuscript as I read your comments: "out" and "in." The vote was utterly clear. Six "outs" for Inevitability, five "outs" for DNR, and four "outs" Pneumonia. So chop chop!

TechnoBabe said...

#6 and #7

Anonymous said...

It looks like I am late to vote, but I agree with all those who went before me - it is so hard to choose! (So in a way I am glad I am too late to choose.) Hope the reading went well. I am sure your Mom was there in the room proudly listening to your beautiful words . - G

Scott said...

I am waaaay late to vote, can't beleive it's been this long since I last visited, I'm far too busy.

My fave is #3 "Mom Says Goodbye"

I really felt the connection between you, the moment. "It's wonderful," she said and you knew by just looking into her slue sparkling eyes and being there. You really captured an intimate moment there...

I also connected with #2 "I Tried Laying Hands on my Mother"

The imagery is so vivid it made me hesitant to continue reading. I don't know how to handle people who are dying. I don't know how it al works so it makes me nervous and uncomfortable.

Then, there is your little girl, amazing that you've seen her in your mother's dying days, in her face and her careworn body.

What an experience you've had. Thanks for sharing this with us!