The following poem is a sort of Part 3 to the last two weeks’ posts. All three writings are, in large part, a response to a book I’m working called, Poetic Medicine The Healing Art of Poem-Making by John Fox. You may remember him from a much older book, Finding What You Didn’t Lose. With these two books (and only these two), he has proven himself both inspiring and helpful in so many ways.
In my struggle to cope with Dad’s dementia with patience (for myself) and understanding, Poetic Medicine is proving an invaluable tool. One of Fox’s early assignments is to take a difficult situation involving a loved one and use metaphor or simile in place of the thing itself. That is how “Green as Grief” came to be, and as I was better able to name my sorrow, “For the Love of Words.” My poem, “Disappearing Ink” was also born with help from his pages.
The response to “For the Love of Words” was so strong, I know that this must be a familiar story to many of my readers. If so, we know there will be things left unsaid, gifts that we can’t say “thank you” for, anger that has no place to go except into the promised land of forgiveness. Hopefully, we will finally find ourselves able to drink from the clear, deep well of acceptance. I thank author, John Fox, for his aid in helping me to to manage all these conflicting emotions with a modicum of grace.
My father is a blank page now.
You can write anything across him.
It’s disappearing ink.
He is in the eternal present
for he forgets the past
and can’t remember having had a future.
He knows me when he sees me.
I announce myself on the phone before he has to guess
so he can conjure up a picture in his head I hope
of his eldest daughter.
The minister who was a dapper dresser,
even in his yard clothes, neat,
sweet-smelling, smooth cheeks–
grows whiskers he will shave in patches
with shaky hands for his wife’s sake.
He will not shower unless reminded.
He wears the same clothes every day.
He forgets he should not drive; grows
anxious searching for his keys.
The dad-like stuff he used to do:
fix a lock, mow grass, chat with neighbors,
know which gadgets to pick at Lowe’s,
are but shadows in this mystery.
He’s forgotten how to grill.
He remembers the Sabbath. To keep it holy,
he gets up at five for church at ten.
It takes a long time to get ready.
although guilt and shame have disappeared
like a puff of Vatican smoke,
vanished where no angels stand to roll the stone away.
In the pew, he recites the Apostle’s Creed, sings the Doxology.
Blameless as a newborn, his memories have been traded
for a good night’s sleep.
What remains belongs to me:
Holding hands with him after a football game
he took me to because I didn’t have a date;
him watching me shoot hoops, swim;
sweating in the garden.
That long, hard drive to the bus station
when he wouldn’t look at me. I cried,
“Forgive me, Father…”
but I could not change my self.
He can’t remember that.
I think about this meditation
that he has never practiced.
His prayers consist of names without faces,
go unanswered, but then there’s
his new inability to care.
I ask him on the phone what he has done today
and he answers truthfully,
He sits quietly on the couch waiting for the train.
His wife of over sixty years wades through deep
long silences, not ready yet for him to board.
Will he remember passengers once he takes his seat?
It’s impossible to know.
Perhaps he’ll be given pens with good, black ink
to cover his blank page with names of new acquaintances
and places he has never seen.
Mendy Knott July 2015