Day One as a Volunteer in a Memory Care Center

Day One as a Volunteer in a Memory Care Center

Listen to Martin read her poem.

We were meant to lose people. 

How else would we know how important they are?

– The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

They’ve come to die, I’m told. That’s why
this place is flush with plants, exotic fish
and photographs of lives – once deeply lived –
hung outside each bedroom door. Anything,
it seems, to counterpoint the end.

I roam the disinfected halls, curious.
First door right, a six-foot bombardier
poses arrow-straight, metaled up
for bravery. Now he’s shrunk to half
his size and aims his piss at every rug
in sight. He relieves himself, I’m told,
with crisp salutes and sheepish grins.

On the left, sullen black/brown eyes above
a red print dress and shoes that seem too tight.
Frozen in a rocking chair, she’s been freed –
I’ll come to understand – from memories
of family dead and bloodied feet and miles
of killing fields beneath a killing sky.

Here the smiling Ph.D. beneath
a pink straw hat, hugging natives in Peru.
She’ll sing her Ay, ay, ay, ay for me
and follow with the chant, I’m five
and on the river mother died. For months
we’ll wind along her private Amazon.

Forty-eight, I’m told: residents to-date.
Four dozen lives bedded down or nodding off
in wheelchairs circled for the morning news.
They’ve come to die, I’m told, and I – someone
they never knew – vow to learn each life
and scour facts for truth. I’ll watch them
disappear – the smiles, half-smiles, frowns;
the final sparks before the fading stares.
Then I’ll volunteer to take the photos down.


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razor iconCarolyn Martin is blissfully retired in Clackamas, OR, where she gardens, writes and plays with creative friends. Since the only poem she wrote in high school was red-penciled “extremely maudlin,” she is amazed she continues to write. Her poems have appeared in publications throughout the US and UK, and her second collection, The Way a Woman Knows, was released in February 2015.

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