Review in "News from St. John's Cathedral"
Reviewed by Judith Shadford
Poetry and Prose about Alzheimer's Disease
Holly Hughes, editor
247pp. Kent State University Press, 2009.
Even to consider assembling poetry about the intimate experiences of writers who are also family members who care for those suffering from Alzheimer's is an act of daring and courage. Hughes has produced a gift, austere, beautiful. Make no mistake, there is nothing sentimental in these stories, these poems, written at the top of their writers' craft. There is surprising beauty emerging from the smallest moments: a shared sunset, a bird call, ripples of water. The grotesque is there, certainly, as well as the everlasting sadness, the loss.
Laughter, even out loud, rides triumphantly through a few poems. In "Everyday Cookies", Carolyn Dahl describes a family friend who refused to surrender to the diagnosis--driving, risking all--to buy cookies.
Then Glory's gone.
One hundred pounds of old woman
leaving with five pounds of
Everyday Cookies under her arm.
She guns the motor of Billy's Pontiac
and hangs a wrinkled self on the wheel.
All four windows open to August's fading light,
hair whiplashed by window wind,
she drives fast and furious,
white pearls chattering
at her neck like false teeth,
powdered face growing bright
in the rising dashboard light. [p.39]
Tess Gallagher, widow of noted author, Raymond Carver, in her Introduction to Beyond Forgetting, tells how she cared for her own mother while she, herself, was fighting cancer. She says: "In the same way that the poetry and stories we find unforgettable pass into us and become an essential element of our bodily and spiritual knowledge, our encounters with Alzheimer's can lift us, even when they are most dire, precisely because they courageously enact under duress what moves us, makes us feel crushed or abandoned, tender and longing fo things to be otherwise [p.XX]."
These reports come from a far country we'd like to deny until we can no longer do so. They are love poems--offered for those who have disappeared, who have died--to us who dare care for them and, truth to tell, sometimes look at ourselves in the mirror and say, What if?
Holly Hughes has written and assembled a superb gift for any whose lives know the land Beyond Forgetting.
This review appeared in "News from St. John's Cathedral", October 12, 2009