I am now in almost daily face-to-face contact with my mom, who has Alzheimer’s, although she refuses to link the word “dementia” to her increasing problems. One indication of the disease has been the slipping away of nouns. As I listen to my mom string a sentence together, I imagine her in an intense linguistic workout, where 10 reps of word-searching yield a long phrase to replace the noun. A “remote” becomes a “blower that pushes buttons and opens things.” A “library” becomes a “place where they have things you can look at.”
These days, I ask my mom again and again what she means until I can decipher her word soup. Anyone caring for someone with dementia knows that a macabre sense of humor helps–any sense of humor helps. And so I wonder how I can recuperate what seems so sad–my mother loved to read and read fast, and she worked as an editor for academic publications. No longer.
So I’m moved towards poetry. Mom’s word soup can be poetry. She can be a demented poet. Poets give us images we might not otherwise see. So a star becomes a hole in the sky, perhaps. Maybe one way to get visionary is to let go of nouns and re-name things with a string of words. I promise here to view my mother as a language teacher–not as a former reader and writer to be pitied.
Update: 26 July and at lunch, Mom tried cheddar & sour cream potato chips. She wasn’t sure she liked them. She said they were hot and then followed up that observation with this: “They left a message on my tongue.” If that’s not poetry, I don’t know what is.