Clara's Second Youth

“What’s in that head of yours?”
he says as she sits alone on a bench.
A lifetime ago Jake would cup
Clara’s chin in his hand,
lean in to brush his lips against her cheek,
whisper, “you’re my own feline girl.”
In Jake’s parents’ house one night
she told him, “I don’t like suspenders
on a young man anymore,
or the way you smoke a pipe
and listen to Big Band music.”
“What’ll I tell Mom and Pop?” he wailed.

Today she forgets she had eggs for breakfast,
buckles her bra on top of her dress.
She’s twenty-one, walking to the square
with Jake, arms wrapped around
each other’s waists, sitting with him
on this sunny bench, where Jake
cups her chin in his hand.

***

I wrote this poem as an exercise for an online writing workshop I took a few months ago. The instructor asked us to find a photo, to write to it, and then to begin and end the poem with the same line or thought. It’s called ‘the envelope effect.’ I found a photo of an elderly couple sitting together on a park bench, holding hands.

She also said to write couplets. I did all of that, but then I went back and re-arranged, did away with the couplets, etc… . The poem isn’t about anyone I know, it’s all made up. I don’t have Alzheimer’s, I don’t think, nor does anyone in my family, though of course, like everyone, I know people who have family members with the disease.

I didn’t write to the read write poem prompts this week, even though I was inspired to. I’ve been busy with magazine layout for ouroboros, teaching yoga, taking my son to the rock climbing gym, applying to graduate school (for another degree? probably not….), and taking a stab now and then at cleaning my house.

I’ve also been writing stories, which are still untyped in my notebook. Michelle McGrane’s interview with Padrika Tarrant inspired me. Go have a look, it’s a brilliant conversation between two talented writers.

While you’re at it, read Jo Hemmant’s poem at blossombones. You’ll hear the wind howling off the moors.

*Update: since a few people have commented that this poem doesn’t resemble Alzheimer’s, I want to clarify that the poem is about regrets, lost love, confusion, memory loss, and the happiness some people find in the illusions they create. The poem is a blending of several people and events, all of which I’ve experienced or observed, but it is not about a single individual, nor is it scientific or realistic on a factual level.

Here’s the poem again, in couplets. Thanks, Collin!

Clara’s Second Youth

“What’s in that head of yours?” he says
as she sits alone on a nursing home bench.

A lifetime ago Jake would cup
Clara’s chin in his hand,

lean in to brush his lips against her cheek,
whisper, “you’re my own feline girl.”

But in his parents’ house one night
she told him, “I don’t like suspenders

on young men anymore,
or the way you smoke a pipe

and listen to Big Band music.”
“What’ll I tell Mom and Pop?” he wailed.

Today she forgets she had eggs for breakfast,
buckles her bra on top of her dress.

She’s twenty-one, walking to the square
with Jake, arms wrapped around each other’s waists,

sitting with him on this warm bench
where he cups her chin in his hand.