When my partner’s father entered a memory care center outside of Portland, Oregon, in 2003, little did we know he would live there for 4 ½ years as dementia slowly destroyed his mind and took his life. His devoted wife visited him every one of those 1600+ days, and I would stop by occasionally to see him and the other residents in his wing.
Outside the door of each bedroom was a photo of a younger version of the occupant with his or her biography. To see who these people were and what they had accomplished in their lives in contrast to those now in walkers, wheelchairs, or beds was heart-wrenching.
Of the residents I cite in my poem, the one who affected me the most was the Ph.D. She was a very sweet woman who taught English to natives in Peru and Spanish in a local public school. She was also a master practitioner of Transcendental Meditation. My partner and I would sing Spanish songs with her – she remembered most words – and play catch with a small yellow beach ball. Child-like, she would laugh gleefully with each successful catch and toss. Then one day she said, “I was five and on the river my mother died.” This became a regular chant whenever we played. I never discovered the backstory.
For the most part, I’m a narrative poet and it took me almost seven years to begin to record the memories of those visits. This poem is a tribute to the men and women who lived and died in that special place, and who gifted me with their stories.