The Lois Poems

This is a series of Alzheimer’s poems I did in memory of my mother, who died in 2010 of complications from the disease.

Lois (Alzheimer poem #1)

It started so simply:
first,  she would forget
where she put
the damned car keys

then, gradually
she misplaced  her car
& forgot how to start it
& where to take it
& how to get home
& then which home
she needed to get to

just like that
I went from Susan,
to one of my kids,
to a  stranger

One afternoon,
after she had unlearned
how to swallow,
but before
she forgot that she didn’t
like children

I combed her hair
the mirror framing
her face,
both of us watching

who’s that,
she asked,
gesturing towards
herself;

she looks familiar.

 

Lois (Alzheimer poem #2)

she held my son
in her lap
when he knew 2 words
& she had forgotten all hers

but they were smiling together
love needs no spoken language

Lois (Alzheimer poem #3): Faces, or the unstrung kite

What are faces to my mother
who no longer feels the tug of relationship,
that nagging sensation that used to say
when a face belonged to a friend,
a husband, a daughter.

Faces lost their meaning
& history for her,
beyond a bleeding of color & features

less interesting
than the lilacs I cut for her
last May.

I know she has lost one more part
of what grounds her,
& when that last line is cut

& she drifts unpiloted into sky
she will know nothing else
but that sensation of flight.

Lois (Alzheimer poem #4): Church

She loved going to service with me
Sunday mornings, until
the rustling of 150 bibles
turning to the right passage
became a fluttering distraction

how could she listen,
get comfort
when she was still frantically
looking for the exact verse in Genesis
being read

after all, Mom knew her Bible
better than most pastors
& needed to make sure
he got the wording right;
this one looked too young to trust
in matters of spirit

even when she no longer knew
the location,
she had the gist
and the Book was hiding
its truth from her
when she couldn’t find it
fast enough

My finger guiding her eyes
to the verse
could never be enough;

so she stopped going
& worshiped,
as in everything else
without words
or language,

& God heard her
& spoke to her

Perfectly,
as in all things.

Lois (Alzheimer poem #5): Symmetry

when my daughter
was new
she had hair to her shoulders.

I was afraid to wash it–
everything about her so small,
so breakable

& my mother
would come over after work
to wash her hair.

Later,
I did the same thing
for my mother,
when her fear of water
moved from pools
to showers
to bathtubs

I used the same kitchen sink
& baby shampoo,
because she would not close her eyes–

there is symmetry
in how we care
for those we love.

Lois (Alzheimer poem #6): How to write an S

the kitchen table
was our battleground:
if I could read at 2
then surely
I could create an “S”
at 3, she said

& I
shaped them backwards
or slumped them along lined paper sideways,
like snakes trying wildly
to escape.

I give up, 
she said to her mother,
who then told me
a story of a long country road
curving down a hill
in a perfect S

since that story
I have had no trouble with S’s:

see, I wrote 3 of them
& 1 was uppercase
when I signed her
Power of Attorney

that’s why
she wanted me to get it right
all those years ago;

so I could sign my name
next to
where she put an X
on the line
where her name should be

Lois (Alzheimer’s poem #7): Scrabble & Sunday Crosswords

I used to sit
under the table cross-legged
while my mother & grandmother
solved the Sunday crossword in ink
or locked up the board
playing Scrabble.

Later, I joined them
& learned the joy
of contorting words
into new forms;
addictive game
that had to have a winner,
but losing to a finer mind
was equally sweet.

When birth pains started
for my daughter,
my mother brought Scrabble
& we played until
I could no longer spell;

then, I knew
it was time to go to the hospital.

That was what she lost first.

One day, she would not play Scrabble
with me;
around the time
she shifted from reading novels
to skimming magazine articles.

Even then, I knew
I was losing her
by tiny degrees,
bit
by bit.

Alzheimer’s poem # 8: Why I call my mother Lois

in 77 years, she had
so many different names

her husband and friends
called her Lo,
& we 3 called her Mom

& when she forgot
she was a mother
& that she had a nickname once

when she started calling
me “Mother,”

I called her
what my grandmother called her–

Lois,
because she would answer.

 

my mother’s home

Lois went to a place
full of old,
sick,

inconvenient people
sitting in chairs
lining the hallway

denied my impulse
to care for her myself
by her husband;

because,
as he put it,
had a life 
& a family
of my own.

I said,
isn’t  she
part of that?

It doesn’t matter
now, because
the result was

since she saw us
just once a week
& could only remember
in minutes

other people
became her family,

not us.

Lois (a love poem)

it was simply her
for him, and he hers
when they let themselves
scale all their losses
piled up & sealed
in that stone mountain
between them

how easy they made it look,
that climb to reach each other
without dynamic lines
or other safety nets

sweet to watch
the gruff man’s gentleness
flower to smiles
& her distance
thaw to blushing

later

when she forgot
all but her mother’s name
& even still later
when she no longer had words

she knew him

visiting Lois

faces are not faces any more
but parts of the room
to her–a roomscape
with no sun ever setting
& the days uncharted
by anything but the brightness
of this fluorescent & linoleum reality
of a waiting room
overlooking a courtyard
where I can’t smoke
& walking is difficult
on bricks old & brittle
with winter

& her, thin as the twigs
exposed outside, barely sipping
the chocolate milkshake we brought
from the drivethrough
because even when starving herself absent
she would not refuse ice cream

I feed the woman
who fed me
though she does not remember
telling me

eat more than one pea
at a time, and please, please

stop slipping your macaroni
one piece at a time
over your fork tines.  I can’t
watch you eat

yes, and I can’t threaten
to keep her meal for hours
melting
the way she did liver
& eggplant with me
so I tease, make her smile
for that 1 more taste
& she tells me

You’re not very good looking

when I pout
& she’s right
that day I wasn’t–
week 2 of sleeplessness waiting
for her to breathe out
that 1 last particle of self
& float into awareness
of who she was
again & how
my tired eyes
belonged to my father
whom she loved

& loved the echoes of him
in my face, when she
remembered echoes,
but now I embody me
a stranger she calls mother
because she sees me mother
my children
& her

every time we meet

she has forgotten, too
how she used to say
I was beautiful

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6 Responses to The Lois Poems

  1. parmis rad says:

    Wow … I hit “like” which does not do this series justice. I am moved, I am sad, I am inspired … As I remember how I cared for dementia patients. How I was so depressed trying to help those who couldn’t really be helped … I am so glad I found your blog through other poets and would be honored if you ever had the chance to stop by my blog and give me feed back. Thank you

  2. Leo says:

    So glad you put the poems about your mother together; I would never have found them, otherwise. I love them probably more than any of your work. Each is perfect and reveals so much. Leo

  3. Lovely recollections. There is a beautiful song that you might like, if you haven’t heard it before: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y78dy-h5k58 . If the link doesn’t work, you can look it up (Liz Longley unraveling).

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