Clara's Second Youth

“What’s in that head of yours?”
he says as she sits alone on a bench.
A lifetime ago Jake would cup
Clara’s chin in his hand,
lean in to brush his lips against her cheek,
whisper, “you’re my own feline girl.”
In Jake’s parents’ house one night
she told him, “I don’t like suspenders
on a young man anymore,
or the way you smoke a pipe
and listen to Big Band music.”
“What’ll I tell Mom and Pop?” he wailed.

Today she forgets she had eggs for breakfast,
buckles her bra on top of her dress.
She’s twenty-one, walking to the square
with Jake, arms wrapped around
each other’s waists, sitting with him
on this sunny bench, where Jake
cups her chin in his hand.

***

I wrote this poem as an exercise for an online writing workshop I took a few months ago. The instructor asked us to find a photo, to write to it, and then to begin and end the poem with the same line or thought. It’s called ‘the envelope effect.’ I found a photo of an elderly couple sitting together on a park bench, holding hands.

She also said to write couplets. I did all of that, but then I went back and re-arranged, did away with the couplets, etc… . The poem isn’t about anyone I know, it’s all made up. I don’t have Alzheimer’s, I don’t think, nor does anyone in my family, though of course, like everyone, I know people who have family members with the disease.

I didn’t write to the read write poem prompts this week, even though I was inspired to. I’ve been busy with magazine layout for ouroboros, teaching yoga, taking my son to the rock climbing gym, applying to graduate school (for another degree? probably not….), and taking a stab now and then at cleaning my house.

I’ve also been writing stories, which are still untyped in my notebook. Michelle McGrane’s interview with Padrika Tarrant inspired me. Go have a look, it’s a brilliant conversation between two talented writers.

While you’re at it, read Jo Hemmant’s poem at blossombones. You’ll hear the wind howling off the moors.

*Update: since a few people have commented that this poem doesn’t resemble Alzheimer’s, I want to clarify that the poem is about regrets, lost love, confusion, memory loss, and the happiness some people find in the illusions they create. The poem is a blending of several people and events, all of which I’ve experienced or observed, but it is not about a single individual, nor is it scientific or realistic on a factual level.

Here’s the poem again, in couplets. Thanks, Collin!

Clara’s Second Youth

“What’s in that head of yours?” he says
as she sits alone on a nursing home bench.

A lifetime ago Jake would cup
Clara’s chin in his hand,

lean in to brush his lips against her cheek,
whisper, “you’re my own feline girl.”

But in his parents’ house one night
she told him, “I don’t like suspenders

on young men anymore,
or the way you smoke a pipe

and listen to Big Band music.”
“What’ll I tell Mom and Pop?” he wailed.

Today she forgets she had eggs for breakfast,
buckles her bra on top of her dress.

She’s twenty-one, walking to the square
with Jake, arms wrapped around each other’s waists,

sitting with him on this warm bench
where he cups her chin in his hand.

20 thoughts on “Clara's Second Youth

  1. Michelle says:

    Beautiful atmospheric detail in “Clara’s Second Youth”, Christine. (Love, love, love: “I don’t like suspenders/ on a young man anymore,/ or the way you smoke a pipe
    and listen to Big Band music.” And very real: “Today she forgets she had eggs for breakfast,/ buckles her bra on top of her dress.” The strange comfort that Clara no longer lives in the present, but in the sunshine of her past, with her Jake …) I haven’t read your couplet version, but this is great.

    Thank you so much for the mention of Paddy’s interview. She’s a unique and phenomenally talented writer.

    And I think Jo’s “Gingerbread” is the bee’s knees! 🙂

    Like

  2. Sweet Talking Guy.. says:

    I think you’ve really captured something here, although I wouldn’t have known about the Alzheimer’s if you hadn’t mentioned it in the footnote, even though there is a big clue in the title. I wonder if you could say:
    She’s twenty-one again,
    or
    She thinks she’s twenty-one,

    (Perhaps I’m missing the plot?)

    Beautifully written poem!

    Like

  3. James says:

    You capture this really nicely. When my step-grandfather had alzheimers there was always a sense that he was truly somewhere else, and he didn’t mind. I’ve read this a few times today and I don’t know if Jake is really there or not. I like that I don’t know, yet it’s so real for Clara.

    Like

  4. Jo says:

    Oh thanks so much for the mention C. This is such a sad, lovely piece. The title is excellent and you have merged time and perspectives so well. Gorgeous.

    Like

  5. Carole says:

    Christine, like Sweet Talking Guy, i wouldn’t have known this was about Altzheimer’s without your accompanying explanation. I come across this distressing condition all the time, when I visit my mother who has dementia, and is in residential care. So although Clara could have a form of dementia, which often results in bizarre behaviour it doesn’t ring true to Atzheimer’s. Sadly, Alzheimer’s suffers lose the capacity to do simple things like feed themselves. As usual, the writing and the imagery are wonderful. You are spot on with the way the memory loss of the earliest events is last to go. You may like to read a poem I wrote, which has been published in an anthology, and is based on a photograph of my mother at twenty-one.

    Staring Bright

    Like

    • christine says:

      Carole, thanks for reading. The poem isn’t really about Alzheimer’s. It’s about a woman who is losing her memory of the present, and is wrapped up in thoughts about the past, and her regrets. I shouldn’t have even put in the note about Alzheimer’s at the end, because I know that in advanced stages the disease is not like I have depicted here at all. I wasn’t trying to portray I literal view of Alzheimer’s. Thanks for sharing your link. I’m happy for you that in was included in a collection.

      Like

  6. Jo says:

    I shall go see your poem, Carole, how exciting.

    As to the alzheimer’s, my mother’s neighbour has just been put into a home, in the final stages of the disease, and we’ve watched him deteriorate over the past few years…….to me, this is very reminiscent of him, lost in his own world, standing outside without trousers on, telling us about an incident from the war, oblivious 😦 I think it is a disease which affects people in many, many different ways and there are good and bad points each day….I think this is a vivid snapshot of the disease.

    Like

  7. carolee says:

    i like how you’ve warped time here, and i also think it’s wonderful how you completed an exercise (followed a process) and then let the poem tell you what it wanted.

    hi!

    Like

  8. paisley says:

    having lost both my grand mother and my great grandmother to Alzheimers,, i cannot see that this poem is that far off.. now i know you said it isnt particularly about Alzheimers,, but anyone that has suffered thru Alzheimers knows,, Alzheimers covers a lot of ground…

    i feel the poem,, and could see my own grand mother pulling a bra on over her dress and acting like a prepubescent young girl… vividly….

    Like

  9. Michelle Johnson says:

    Emotionally charged poem. I can see elements of Alzheimer’s in this poem as I can see love flourishing and securing its place in their hearts. Each cherishing the tiny moments in life. Well done. Thanks for the visit to my blog this morning. I was out of town today hence the late comment here. I will try to e-mail you tomorrow. Have a nice night.

    Like

  10. Collin Kelley says:

    I actually caught on in the last stanza that it was Alzheimer’s. Great imagery here, but I think I might like to see it in couplets or tercets. The poem seems “top heavy” to me. It needs a little room to breathe, some gaps…like memory. My two cents.

    Like

  11. Holly D says:

    Oh wow…I thought Alzheimer’s with the bra on the outside. Anyway, I feel like this is dead-on to what I have experienced with people. I think anyone who has experienced people with it will know. touching, sad, gorgeous…

    Like

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