Friday, September 13, 2013

Alzheimer's Poem: Forgetting To Remember

In 1997, my artist grandmother died while suffering from Alzheimer's. I wrote this poem about her quite soon after her death, and can never read it now without tearing up.

I may have posted this poem on Raw Light before - it was published in my first poetry collection with Bloodaxe, THE BRIEF HISTORY OF A DISREPUTABLE WOMAN - but a conversation at dinner last night with fellow novelists Judy Astley and Katie Fforde made me think of it again.

I read this poem at my mother-in-law's funeral a few years ago, who also died from a complication while suffering from Alzheimer's.

(for my artist grandmother, Christiana Evelyn Beatrice Holland, 1903 - 1997)
by Jane Holland
You turned your face to the wall a year ago,
waiting for this. Not a word, not a whisper
passed your lips. In your eyes, not a flicker
when they came and went, those ghosts
dressed like your children, but unknown, older.
And your son was not your husband, though
you must have thought so, trying his name.
The nurse came by, with something
to help you sleep, but you didn't. Sat there
as though for a portrait, erasing the canvas
with cataracts, your glasses deep bottle-green.
A few years shy of the century, you were still
in that sunny front room at Maison Dieu,
preparing to paint, though they'd sold it
to pay the home fees ten years before.
I was almost as tall as you at eleven,
sunlight glinting off that shade you wore,
one eye patched like a pirate's.
And after the guns at Arromanches,
he could never hear the racing results
so you had to repeat, repeat yourself
until he too was gone; memory
evaporating too swiftly then,
like turps you'd left in the sun.

The whole poetry collection is available on Kindle.