Tuesday, January 17, 2017

DEMENTIA WARD ABSOLUTIONS


I arrive at lunchtime,
and make my familiar
way to the third
floor of the nursing home:
the dementia ward.

There’s that peculiar
smell of bad food
and scrambled minds
in decomposing bodies.

My mother in the corner,
crumpled in her
wheelchair, a grape past
in a raisin present,
out of it, out of
it now for many years,
sailing farther out
at each visit, floating
to oblivion. 

I try to feed her,
coax her into
opening her mouth. 
“Here comes the airplane,”
I say cheerfully, aiming a spoon
filled with mush at
her tightly clenched jaw.

She rejects most of
my attempts at giving
her sustenance. She is
wise, dementia be damned,
and is determined to escape
the ruins of her corporeality.
But I keep trying
to keep her body going.
Wouldn't you?
Would you?
The dining room is filled with
bodies moaning, jerking,
shuffling, snuffling, slipping 
farther and closer
toward and away.

One at my mother’s
table is built like a tank.
She eat and eats, keeping
up a steady blather of
invectives aimed at
no one in particular.

I know this one, she 
has an old plastic baby 
that she cradles in 
her powerful arms
at all times.
If you take it away
she'll screech
a terrible song
of a mother scorned. 

Today something has happened
to her baby. The nurses, 
out of desperation, 
gave her a rolled up
sheet to hold instead.

She doesn’t seem to mind, holds
onto the bundle for dear life,
cooing at it and giving it
the full force of her
demented mother love.

With her other hand she keeps
pawing at my mother’s
tray and shoving the table at
my mother’s withered legs.
I try to fend her off, keep the table
steady with one hand
and spoon-open that
clenched jaw with the other. 

I’m surprised at
the tank’s strength, 
she overwhelms me, 
and the table and tray
keep jerking and I
keep failing at
feeding my mother.

The t.v. on the wall
flickers mutely with the image
of an orange baboon
waving a short finger,
promising blood and glory
delivered on a gold tray
for the good ol’
you ess of ay.

And then--a miracle!
A body, stretched on a reclining
wheelchair, begins
a reedy litany, loud
enough to be heard
across the room:
HELP ME,
HELP ME,
HELP ME 
which goes on and on
and on.

This is the perfect
choral accompaniment
to this mad scene, but unlike in
the movie AMADEUS,
there’s no Salieri
waving a desiccated
finger to absolve us all;
instead, the orange baboon’s
finger is waving to
dissolve us all.

I rejoice and silently
join the HELP ME chant,
I happily go
temporarily insane,
while I try to feed my
mother, fend off the tank’s
advances, and ignore
the orange baboon’s image
flickering on the device
that gave him the 
power to put us all
in the dementia ward.

Perhaps we’re already there.
Perhaps we've never left.

I absolve my mother
HELP ME
I absolve myself
HELP ME
I absolve you
HELP ME
I absolve the orange baboon
HELP ME
I absolve us all




  

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