WHEN THE GEARS START SLIPPING…

I’m going to start this post by saying that my mom is fine, as sharp and independent as ever.  Because when I read this poem for people, they approach me afterward and tell me they’re sorry to hear that, or share stories about their own caregiving struggles.  These lines are a patch-work of tales told to me by my patients, family, friends and neighbors about the challenges and heartbreaks of looking after someone with dementia.  This poem (a triolet series) goes out to all the caregivers:

CAREGIVER’S SONG

Mom pulls on a ratty sweater,
the one she will not go without,
even in the hottest weather
Mom pulls on a ratty sweater
I save my breath and don’t upset her
unless her pants are inside-out
Mom pulls on a ratty sweater,
the one she will not go without

Oftentimes, Mom will not eat
She just stares blankly at her plate
Ignoring vegetables and meat
Oftentimes, Mom will not eat
But how her eyes light up for sweets,
a dish of ice cream, piece of cake
Oftentimes, Mom will not eat
She just stares blankly at her plate

Mom makes lively conversation
with an empty kitchen chair
Since her mind went on vacation,
Mom makes lively conversation
with her long-deceased relations
as if they were sitting there
Mom makes lively conversation
with an empty kitchen chair

Mom pores over family pictures,
staring at a toddler’s face
Who is this?  she points and whispers
Mom pores over family pictures
A childhood me with my big sister
Precious memories gone, erased
Mom pores over family pictures
staring at a toddler’s face

Mom can’t follow TV shows,
but ogles actors shamelessly,
certain they are men she knows
Mom can’t follow TV shows,
Bosses, neighbors, high school beaus,
not Hollywood celebrities
Mom can’t follow TV shows,
but ogles actors shamelessly

At night, Mom barely sleeps a wink
and wanders from her cozy bed
Unsure where she is, I think,
at night, Mom barely sleeps a wink
A spectre in pajamas pink
shuffles through the house instead
At night, Mom barely sleeps a wink
and wanders from her cozy bed

I care about Mom’s happiness
and sit with her around-the-clock
Despite exhaustion, tears, and stress
I care about Mom’s happiness
No time to breathe or decompress
or take a walk around the block
I care about Mom’s happiness
and sit with her around-the-clock

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AN ARACHNID AND HER TAJ MAHAL

‘Tis the season for critters.  It’s been unseasonably warm this week and the bugs are back in force.  Big, bumbling “carpenter” bees pollinating things, or maybe building a hive around the corner.  Primordial-looking stink bugs emerging from winter hibernation.  House flies.  Fleas.  And the most dreaded of all creepy-crawlies, ticks—Lyme disease, anyone? Around this time last year, or maybe two years ago, a tiny spider began constructing a home in my potted lime tree.  Is there such a thing as a “carpenter” spider?  Every day, I’d think about moving her outside, but then, I’d see the artistic additions she had made to her web overnight and change my mind.  This cascade poem is for her:

SCHEHERAZADE

An eight-legged Scheherazade
spins a new yarn every night,
slowly building a silken castle
that delights and fascinates me

Early summer, she crossed my
threshold, took up residence in
a potted plant, and pled to stay,
an eight-legged Scheherazade

She sleeps all day, striped legs
folded neatly around her body,
while her industrious alter ego
spins a new yarn every night

On a solid foundation, she adds
an east wing, a towering turret,
and a series of flying buttresses,
slowly building a silken castle

Her keen architectural prowess
is revealed in the morning sun
a shimmering, glittering genius
that delights and fascinates me

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DAFFO-DILIGENCE

I love every spring flower, but daffodils most of all.  Crocus are low to the ground, built to withstand the weather’s vacillations.  Tulips wait until they know it’s safe.  According to local legend, winter is not over until snow has fallen three times on the daffodils.  Surely, they know this.  Yet they stick their necks out, risking it all to brighten the dreary landscape.  Grouped together in our flower bed, they are the trumpet section of a marching band, bravely tooting Spring’s Reveille, making joyful music for the eyes and renewing the spirit:

FLOWER POWER
(Monotetra)

On the heels of winter’s chill
emerge audacious daffodils
trumpeting from yellow frills
soprano trills, soprano trills

Intrepid Marchers, heads bent low
in bracing wind and fickle snow
Brassy bright on spring’s tableau,
they fairly glow, they fairly glow

With blaring, daring confidence
born of a faith in Providence
that resonates, pure and intense,
inside my chest, inside my chest

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LIFE WITH A FAHRVERGREMLIN

In a prior post involving supernatural phenomena, I mentioned the FahrverGremlin that lived inside my 1989 Volkswagen Fox.  I owned Foxy for ten years, until she was nineteen with 279,000* miles.  That little “driving annoyance” kept me junking, jury rigging, and devising workarounds until the minute the title changed hands.  I presented a potential buyer with a two-page list of Foxy’s quirks and he scoffed, saying I “wasn’t gonna scare him off that easy.”  We settled on fifty bucks, but before I could collect it, he laid a hard luck story on me.  I gave him a 100% discount, but still felt as though I’d ripped him off.

As you might imagine, Foxy’s impish stowaway caused a few crazily comic scenes.  The look on a friend’s face when I hit the brakes at a stoplight and the glove box flew open, spewing its contents all over
her feet.  The glower of the parking valet when I tossed him my keys with a warning that both the AC and reverse gear were out of order. The E-check gal’s wide-eyed alarm when she brushed the horn button with her boob during the emissions test and it blared mercilessly until she pulled it out of the garage and shut off the ignition.  I wonder if Foxy’s still on the road, how much more mischief the FahrverGremlin has stirred up.  Below are some examples from my own experience:



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DREAMING OF A GREEN CHRISTMAS

Friday evening, I took a break from my Christmas prep to attend the Solstice poetry reading sponsored by our local Land Trust, an agency dedicated to preserving our little corner of the planet.  Communing
with fellow tree huggers and listening to verse inspired by the natural world was a sharp contrast to our society’s lack of environmentalism, especially during the holiday season.  I’ve put together a short list of “green” ideas.  If each of us did JUST ONE of these things, we would save millions of trees and eliminate tons of trash.

Forego cutting down a tree.  If Christmas just isn’t Christmas without a tree, invest in a high-quality faux tree.  Better yet, purchase a live pine (with the root ball wrapped in burlap) and plant it after the holidays.

Consider sending e-cards instead of paper ones.  Or postcards, which are less expensive to mail and don’t require an envelope.

Patronize secondhand shops.  They keep stuff out of landfills and offer quality books, DVDs, toys, clothing, furniture, and more at a fraction of the retail price.  You might find one of those lighted ceramic tabletop trees, like the one your grandmother used to have… another potential solution to the tree dilemma!

Instead of purchasing a new item, have an old one repaired.  When the zipper in my favorite purse went off its track, I paid the local shoe and leather shop to replace it for me.  My purse is now as good as new.

Ask Santa to bring you a reusable coffee mug and carry-out kit (a tote bag with two or three washable leftover-sized containers) and make a New Year’s resolution to use them, instead of throw-away coffee cups and restaurant to-go boxes.

Reuse cardboard shipping boxes and packing materials (like air pockets and bubble wrap) for any packages you need to mail.

Use gift bags instead of wrapping paper.  I’ve wrapped our family’s gifts in the same dozen bags for at least five years.  Our dogs and cats prefer gift bags, paws down, to wrapping paper and Scotch tape.

Gift card holders can be re-used, too.  Leave the inside and envelope blank and write the To: and From: and your message on a slip of paper or a post-it note.

Use a trash bag and a ribbon instead of a sack specially designed for oversized or odd-shaped gifts.  You’ll need one for clean-up anyway.

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STEPPING INTO THE TIME WARP

The hands of the clock seem to move faster after Daylight Savings Time ends.  One minute, you’re raking leaves.  The next, you’re eating turkey and stuffing and cranberry sauce and pumpkin pie, watching the game, and deciding what time to set your alarm on Black Friday.  Then you’re flipping the calendar to its final page, wondering where the time went, when autumn’s colorful mane began to turn gray around the temples:

Between pewter skies
and terra cotta landscape,
November evaporates

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ALL WORKED UP OVER NOTHING?

After last week’s post, I googled “funny epitaphs” and found these.

      Uh-oh…

Dozens of fellow hypochondriacs echoed Tippy Gnu’s sentiment:

Two-thirds of my long nursing career was spent in an office, caring for Internal Medicine patients that ranged in age from AARP to elderly.
A lot of that time was devoted to phone calls, including the triage of various symptoms.  It’s a fact that when you hit a certain age, bodies start to go haywire.  Your eyes go wonky; suddenly, your arms aren’t long enough to read a menu.  You forget things.  Your energy flags.  You get dizzy.  Your heart flippy-flops in your chest.  You get winded walking your normal route.  Your knees ache.  Your back aches.  You develop constipation.  You can’t sleep.  Etc.  It could be nothing, or it could be something.  I ended up scheduling a lot of appointments to
let the doctor sort it out.  Many of the patients consulted online sites like symptomchecker.com or diagnoseme.com before they called me.  (Who says older people aren’t computer-savvy?)  They knew what they had, or at least, what tests should be ordered.  When the results came back negative, instead of breathing a sigh of relief, they’d protest and demand a more intensive work-up.  I know from experience the flurry
of testing that one piddling complaint can set in motion.  That said, I
am hesitant to mention every little twinge.  My approach (one I do not advocate for everyone) is as follows:  if it’s minor or can be solved with a trip to the drugstore, I shut up about it.  The hours I have left on this earth are limited and I’d rather not while them away reading outdated magazines in some doctor’s waiting room.  This poem’s for you, Tippy.  Enjoy that Redbook circa 1995; the doctor will be with you shortly.

MID-LIFE HYPOCHONDRIA

Some ailments run in families;
it’s proven they’re genetic.
I’m ripe to have a heart attack
or wind up diabetic.

I found a scary-looking mole;
I’m positive it’s cancer.
But Doc will say it looks benign,
his standard go-to answer.

I’ve put on six or seven pounds,
my hair is falling out.
My thyroid must be out of whack;
too low, without a doubt.

I suffer from exhaustion
and my feet are always freezing.
According to my online search,
anemia’s the reason.

My allergies are flaring up.
I’m riddled with arthritis.
This sharp pain in my abdomen
could be appendicitis.

My check-up turns up nothing
but alas, my mind won’t rest:
I know there’s something wrong with me!
Please, Doc, just one more test?

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WHEN IT’S TIME FOR A DIRT NAP

Last week’s post was all about life, birth, coming into the world.  This week, we’re zooming to the other end of the spectrum to introduce a new poetry form.  An EPITAPH POEM is one designed to appear on a tombstone.  They are necessarily brief and often rhyme.  They can be funny or serious or poignant, however the deceased would want to be remembered.  If you could write your own epitaph, what would it say?  Here are a few of mine.  Feel free to add yours in a comment, below.

WRITTEN IN STONE

Laid corner to corner
in her graveyard suite,
she’ll slumber in death
as she lived: Oblique.

Moving into
this dimension
is just another
reinvention.

To the dates,
pay no mind.
She was only
twenty-nine.

Below the daisies,
things turn a 180.
My body will rot,
my teeth will not.

Took my vitamins, ate my kale,
drank protein shakes, to no avail.
Healthy or not, we end up dead,
wishing we’d chosen pie instead.

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THE BIRTHDAY GIRL’S ADDRESS

Two score and nine years ago, my mom and dad brought forth on this planet, a new baby, conceived in January or February, and dedicated to the proposition that any child born into a Catholic family must, within a reasonable timeframe, have a sibling.  Thus, the minute I arrived home from the hospital, I already had what my older sister had waited three years for:  a friend.  I don’t recall much about our first meeting, but I’ll bet she peeked through the bars of my crib making silly faces, singing songs, or showing me her toy telephone and urging me to hurry up and start babbling so we could get our money’s worth from AT&T.  She called me a few days ago, and it was one of those rare occasions when the planets aligned and we both had time to talk.  A two-hour phone conversation might sound frivolous or decadent, but when we connect after a long hiatus, that’s how we roll.  We catch up on the day-to-day, spill our news, share our triumphs and tragedies, laugh like crazy, take
a pee break, and laugh some more.  I’m dumbstruck by how much alike we turned out, having had only haphazard contact for the past thirty years.  My solution to a front-loading washer that leaks a bit?  Shove a towel under it.  Her solution to a broken dryer button?  Turn it on and off with a pencil eraser.  Two peas in a pod, I’m telling you.  This seems like a point for nature in the ongoing nature-nurture debate, but don’t forget, we grew up together and shared a bedroom for fifteen years.  Mom would tuck us in and tell us to be quiet and thirty seconds later, we’d be chattering about something of vital importance:  what fourth grade was like, whether Santa Claus was real, what kind of dog we’d get if mom would ever let us have one.  Today, it seems like every kid has their own room.  I’m glad I didn’t because if I had, I’d have missed out on one of life’s greatest treasures.  This poem is dedicated to the world’s best big sister and my very first friend:

LIGHTS OUT

After nighttime prayers were said,
Mom would send us off to bed.

Close your eyes and go to sleep;
no conversation, not a peep!

We’d cover up, lie really still,
and summon every ounce of will

But quickly our resolve would crumble,
cautious whispers turned to mumbles

Jokes and secrets of all sorts,
muffled giggles, squeals, and snorts

The raucous chatter siblings share
drowned out Mom’s footsteps on the stair

but her command to QUIET DOWN!
cut through the din and shook the ground

Instantly, dead silence reigned,
save for the snores my sister feigned

Once satisfied she’d changed her course,
we’d carry on without remorse

On nights we earned a second warning,
talk was tabled until morning

Then, touching hands between our beds,
wordless wishes traded heads

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