Before you begin reading, please indulge me for a moment! I like to make my poetry accessible. There are many people who believe they don’t enjoy poetry, or it is “too difficult” for them to understand. Poetry deals with the human condition. Even when we don’t get everything a poet might be saying, there are always things we can extract and take away if we immerse ourselves not only in the words, but if we allow ourselves to feel. To some readers, this poem may seem depressing. To others, it will feel hopeful and real. I hope it touches something in everyone who takes the time to read it. I really love to have comments, so don’t be afraid to write what you feel. Also, please do pass this on to others.
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Lunch With the Chicken Women From the Dementia Floor
-By Iris Arenson-Fuller
You might mistake her napkin for a painting,
propped up on the easel of her chest,
once ample, now sad, deflated udders
showcasing a jackson pollock drip painting,
spots and streaks of color, vegetable-beef brown,
carrot-colored splotches, tomato-bright shapes.
we take turns spooning soup into her mouth.
between swallows, she mutters how she wants to die.
Suddenly she brightens, blue eyes peering out
into the land where she lives, but always shocked
to hear she lives there, and has for nearly two years.
moments of clarity help focus enough to recognize
a brown leather chair across the room, a stout helper
with an unusually large rear (she shouts this observation
and seems to enjoy her own comment).
once again, we are introduced to the crew, shake hands,
decline half-eaten grape popsicles.
When we arrive we are treated to a symphony.
her piercing shrieks of delight make us
tighten muscles, a natural shield to protect our hearts.
today we hear the story of lunch with the chicken women
(her favorite is chicken) at a local eatery,
-the once a month trip in the van, often forgotten
within moments of arrival home.
the chicken women strut past us,
one with a blue sock and a brown one,
one wringing hands, despairing over
a lost car she does not own,
one propelling a wheelchair with her feet
like a fred flintstone cartoon car.
The elevator door stares while we visit.
when the privileged enter the secret code
its door opens, a wide, inviting mouth
ready to rescue and spirit us away to safety,
to familiar places where we are still in charge,
still know our own faces in the mirror,
still remember the lessons learned in youth,
still taste them now with the seasoning of maturity.
holding hands, we descend, recite the same words.
a joint whispered prayer, an oral last will and testament,
“please, just shoot us if we get that way”.
we walk to the car, eager to be home
in our safe, but fragile world.
We are Baby Boomers, trailblazers, iconoclasts,
acid rock generation kids with disintegrating mini-skirts
and broken guitar strings we’re reluctant to discard,
all tissue papered quietly in an attic of memories.
now grandparents with arthritic knees,
we tell ourselves our fates will be different.
we joke about future demands for nursing home rooms
with piped in Hendrix music and daily deliveries
of underground newspapers.
We think we can stave it off by going to the gym,
reading self-help books, by chasing dreams
around fields of flowers, running to catch them
till we are short of breath, pretending
not to notice as we float through our days
in bubbles of illusions, but that’s ok
because we know how it takes just one pop
and this moment is done, a puddle of nothing
a small, wet stain on the driveway,
so we force ourselves to stay in the bubble moment.
I don’t really fear the place I will drop into
when I fall off the edge of tomorrow.
I often travel to places that scare me.
I have no travel agent to keep me from
ending up in bad hotels with bedbugs
(like that one in Mumbai).
I just close my eyes and go where I need to
though sometimes my hands and legs shake,
my body feels too small for my heart.
Let the whiskers grow one day, if they must,
let my teeth decide to finally finish their chewing,
let my heart write more of its wild, erratic music
that may keep me dizzy and forever stuck on the couch.
I have stories still stored in my bones
that must be told while I can feel them,
so please let them not dribble sloppily
from the corners of my mouth like watery soup,
making no sense to anyone brave enough to listen.
I need to be me, however imperfect but please
not some chicken woman riding in a van
on the way home to the dementia floor.
tags: aging, dementia, Baby Boomers, fear of aging, living in the moment, facing life, facing death, aging hippies