“Zeitgeber” by Anna M. Evans

Anna M. Evans



One hour in sunshine every morning is the best Zeitgeber. Residential group settings for people living with Alzheimer’s … often include access to a garden designed for safety, way-finding and place-awareness.
—John Zeisel,
I’m Still Here

The courtyard’s small, but pleasant in its way:
young birches, laurel, and a bed of roses,
a winding path, picked out in red and gray,
the painted wrought iron chairs where, one supposes
two residents could sit and play at chess
upon the table, basking in the sun,
while sipping tea … but here I must confess
such fantasy breaks down as soon begun.
For Iris fidgets there, among the blooms.
She says, Is this a maze? I think I’m lost.
The single door leads back into the rooms,
which keep her warm and safe, despite the cost.
Still, sitting in the rich September light,
I think she knows how far she is from night.


I think she knows how far she is from night.
Her body clock is faulty, but the sun
can tweak her ancient mechanism just right,
and for a while, at least, the thing will run.
She can’t explain what day it is, what year—
such things are social constructs that we learn—
but she can tell you autumn’s drawing near,
and that she likes to see the maples turn.

All that remains was tattooed on her brain
by repetition, or the changing seasons:
the poems of her school days, and the rain
are hers by heart with no regard for reasons.
While her clock ticks, we’ll oil, rewind, adjust:
we come from dust and we return to dust.


We come from dust and we return to dust,
whether it happens piecemeal or at once.
This painted table has small specks of rust
that barely spoil its Grecian elegance,
a testament to all the storms it’s known,
and to the many more that it can bear,
still the day comes that no one can postpone:
rust will have stained it almost everywhere.

Who knows, perhaps instead of grinding rains
a lightning strike will split its center first?
Meanwhile its latticed surface entertains
Iris, who’s been favored with—or cursed?—
this place to savor her last hours of day:
a courtyard, small, but pleasant in its way.

from Rattle #38, Winter 2012
Readers’ Choice Award Winner


Anna M. Evans: “I wrote ‘Zeitgeber’ in my studio at the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts this summer, as part of a series of poems arising from my work with Alzheimer’s sufferers. The order and faint repetition of the sonnet sequence seemed the only way to make sense of this nonsensical disease.” (website)

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