“Sandwiches” by Francesca Bell

Francesca Bell


I decide it would be a good idea to write them down,
the first four things you’re likely to forget on your journey
down dementia’s long path, a path that will
eventually be strewn with all your discarded memories
the way the path to the person dead from hypothermia
is strewn with their cast-off articles of clothing
that lie bright and useless on the snow.

But I can’t remember them.
The four things.
Or the article’s title.

I’m pretty sure there are four things, but four is
my lucky number, and maybe I’ve merely glommed
onto what is familiar, the way a person who’s wandered
off-course might walk in whatever wrong direction
most resembles home. I try searching my phone,
where I read the piece, but it turns out I can’t find the way
to my phone’s memory either, and when I Google
four things you may forget and signs of dementia,
several lists of ten items appear, and ten is at least six
too many to keep track of, so I don’t bother
writing any of it down.

For some reason, this reminds me of the story
I told last night at dinner, a story I meant to take note of,
but first, I think, since I’m constructing records,
I should finally make that list
of all the men I’ve slept with. So I do,
but I reach early on one name I simply cannot summon,
the name of the guy who took me
to the snow for a whole day and only brought
one sandwich, which turned out to be just
what sleeping with him was like: a trip to the cold
with only half a sandwich to hold you.

I write Sandwiches where his name should be and go on.

But when I reach the end of the list,
my lifetime total is five under
what I thought I tallied years ago
meaning five additional names
and the men they belong to may
(or may not) have leapt from memory’s cliff.

Frustrated, I turn the page
to write the story I told at last night’s dinner—
a story I might, in fact, have told my family before,
now that I think of it—and find that it, too, has vanished
along with those men I now can neither remember
nor forget, men who may have entered my body without leaving
so much as a trace on my mind.

Perhaps it will return to me later,
the story. Maybe even the men
will wander back across my blinkered
brain, naked, with or without
sandwiches, maybe a little snow falling
outside the window, their penises
memorable this time, overpowering enough
that my mind will finally have
something solid to hold onto.

But I don’t really think so.

I don’t think I’ll find the way
to those memories again.
Or to the article about the four early
losses of dementia, one more list of losses,
too many losses to possibly keep
count of.

There is a name for this precise feeling,
I know there is, this feeling that wells
and wells and almost spills over.
Like a Scot with snow,
I’m a poet with hundreds
of different ways to name sorrow,
but, though I sit for a long time
as dusk seeps in,
I’m only ever able
to put my finger
on one.

from Poets Respond
March 27, 2022


Francesca Bell: “When I read this article about four things a person might first become forgetful about as they begin to develop Alzheimer’s, I thought I ought to keep a little eye on myself. But I promptly forgot the four things I should be watching for. And the name of the article. And where I had read it. Which ended up inspiring a bumpy trip down memory lane and this poem.” (web)

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