Today’s poem is “What is lost” by Lee Sharkey from her book Walking Backwards. She’s the author of twelve books of poems, most recently Equations, leads a creative writing workshop for adults recovering from mental illness and serves as Senior Editor of the Beloit Poetry Journal. She was the winner of last year’s Maine Poetry Postcard contest.
She writes, “Periodically, I need to take an accounting of the progress of my husband’s dementia, both to dispel the illusions I’m prone to wrap myself in and to honor what remains of his beautiful spirit and mind. Though I wrote ‘What is lost’ to give myself a dose of courage, I see the poem now also as one that might give readers a glimpse into the lived realities of the descent into the disease, for sufferer and caretaker alike.”
What is lost
by Lee Sharkey
He can no longer: fit the corner of the sheet to the corner of the mattress. Hear Tuck it in at the bottom and tuck the sheet in at the bottom of the bed. He stands with towels in his arms while spilled detergent spreads across the bedroom floor
The parts fall off. What he is is he the man he was
What do I want? A serviceable heart. How do I get there? Every day
A friend tells this story: A stranger appears in a bank. He rents a safe deposit box but never returns. The bank has the box drilled open. Inside, only a notebook, every one of its pages blank
Where do I go? I come and go
What do I dream? Joy wide as a meadow. My lover returned to me, pierced by six arrows
Can no longer: compose a thought into a clear sentence Invisible, inaudible, want gives forth a wanting
Crossing through danger… the language itself is damaged. An orphan lies white- lipped and silent in her bed
Five times a day his mother would call and ask the same questions. Five times a day he patiently answered. The script never varied. Each time was the first
Can: Love. Play a song on the cello. Enter each day without fear or resentment. Laugh at the punster his mind has become. Weigh his existence against the expanse of the cosmos
Poem copyright © 2016 Lee Sharkey. Reprinted from Balancing Act II, Littoral Books, 2018, by permission of Lee Sharkey.