June 19, 2019

Kim Dower

LETTER TO MY SON

Dementia runs in the family, so if I can’t think of a name or a place, a moment everyone else can vividly recall, I feel afraid. Useless. Ashamed. You see, I don’t want anyone to carry me into another room so I can get a view of a tree or remind me what a tree is or tell me what I’m sipping from is called a straw. I’ve seen it all before. My grandfather didn’t know he was eating a banana—only that someone had to peel it for him, and that thing, that peel had to be thrown away. I’m not saying it’s certain I will have dementia, but if I do, please know this: I won’t be mad if you don’t take care of me. I won’t even know that you’re not. Tell me everything’s okay, and I will believe you. Tell me there’s a bird on a branch outside my window, even if there is no window, and I will imagine he’s singing to me. Once when a storm was coming my mother looked up at the sky, told me God was punching the clouds to make rain pour out. She never even believed in God. The point is this: I may not know exactly who you are when you come to visit. I may be confused. But when I hold your hand it will all come back in waves: rocking you in my arms when you were a baby, your little seltzer voice, my heart flooding my body with joy every morning you jumped in my bed. I will not be angry like some people with dementia can get. I’ve never been good at angry. I will not peel the yellow paper off the wall or bite my caregiver. Play a few rounds of blackjack with me. You deal. I will smile each time I get a picture card. Tell me I’ve hit twenty-one even if I bust. Use real chips, have party drinks with ice that clinks, a cocktail napkin with which to dab my lips.

from Rattle #63, Spring 2019

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Kim Dower: “It’s been said that poems are either about love or death. This is about both. (Oh, and it’s also never too early to let your kids know that sooner or later you’ll fall apart, and they’ll be stuck taking care of you!)” (web)

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