Poet’s Book Deals With Alzheimer’s
It’s a testament to the pliancy of contemporary poetry and the talent of poet Malaika King Albrecht that her first book, “Lessons in Forgetting” (Main Street Rag Publishing Company. 47 pages. $7), can grapple so powerfully with an affliction that in recent years seems almost an epidemic — Alzheimer’s.
In choosing this most tragic of diseases, Albrecht traces the terrible affliction’s progression — in this case Alzheimer’s has chosen the poet’s mother — from its onset to its sad conclusion, sprinkling images and insights throughout.
In the early stages of the disease, the poet observes her mother searching for a lost word:
Years before we knew
Of her Alzheimer’s,
Watching a great blue heron
Startle the fog on Menokin Bay,
she struggled to find the bird’s
name. She spread her arms and said
Oh, flappity flap jack and laughed,
winging the air. The bird’s wings
skimmed so close to the water,
I thought he’d break the surface.
The early stage of Alzheimer’s, marked lapses in judgment, memory loss, changes in personality, evolve into the more debilitating stages and Albrecht employs objects and experiences to illustrate the disease’s sad progression.
In “My Mother’s Transformation,” the final stages are lovingly but graphically presented.
This woman whose feet
have curled into bird’s claws.
This woman who no longer speaks,
who sometimes whistles a note,
whose lungs knock like a woodpecker.
whose arms bend so close,
they’re wings and putting on
a nightgown is nearly impossible….
This woman whose white
plume of hair grows wilder:
she will not leave this hospital bed
feathered with stuffed animals. She
will not jump. She cannot
even perch on the bed’s edge. She
will not jump. She will not
fly, and no one can push her.
Alzheimer’s is a thief: Something inside its victims takes back every word, every memory, they were ever given. But there’s more going on with these poems than the obvious attention to detail. What the poet knows — and she tells us this implicitly as her poetic cycle moves to completion — is that the image, unlike the truth which it spurns and distorts, will never set us free, even if its providential deception implies a degree of closure, and only the grinding, implacable attrition of time will heal. It’s surely a lesson worth sharing.
Albrecht lives in Pinehurst with her family, “too many cats, a dog, birds, fish and horses” and is a therapeutic riding instructor. She has published in many literary magazines and anthologies, and her poems have been translated into Farsi and Hindi.
She is the editor of “Redheaded Stepchild,” which accepts poems that have been rejected elsewhere. She has taught creative writing to sexual abuse/assault survivors and to addicts and alcoholics in therapy groups.
Albrecht is a member of the Board of Directors at the Weymouth Center for the Arts and Humanities and will give a reading there on Nov. 7 at 3 p.m.
“Lessons in Forgetting” is available at mainstreetrag.com.
Contact Stephen Smith at email@example.com.
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