#to my mother's dementia #kaze no denwa

          how do I admit I’m almost glad of it?

          the way it’s scraped off
          those flash-storms of rage

          I grew delicately-feathered
          luna moth antennae
          to fine-tune your emotional weather:
          sometimes a barometric shift
          in the house’s atmosphere / a tight
          quickening / some hard dark shadow
          flickering glossy as obsidian
          pulled down like a nightshade
          behind your irises / but sometimes
          you struck with no warning at all
          rattlesnaked fang of lightning
          incinerating my moon-pale wings
          to crumpled cinder and ash

          now your memory resets
          itself every night / a button
          clearing the trip odometer
          back to zero / dim absinthe fizz
          of radium-green glow
          from the dashboard half-lifing
          a midnight rollover from
          omega to alpha to omega

          I remember when you told me
          (maybe I was three?)
          I was mentally damaged
          like the boy across the street /
          said you’d help me pass
          for normal so no one would know
          but only if I swore to obey
          you / and only you / forever

          now your memory fins
          around and around / like
          the shiny obsessive lassos
          of a goldfish gold-banding
          the narrow perimeters
          of its too-small bowl

          coming home from school
          (maybe I was fifteen?)
          you were waiting for me
          just inside the front door /
          accused me of stealing a can
          of corned beef hash from
          the canned goods stashed
          in the basement / then beat me
          in the face with your shoe

          how do I admit I’m almost glad of it?
          that I’ve always pined for you
          like an unrequited love / though I
          was never beautiful enough
          for you / your tinned bright laugh
          shrapneled flecks of steel to hide
          your anger when people used to say
          we looked like one another

          but now we compare
          our same dimpled hands /
          the thick feathering of eyebrows
          with the same crooked wing
          birdwinging over our left eye /
          our uneven cheekbones making
          one half of our face rounder
          than the other / one side
          a full moon / the other side
          a shyer kind of moon

          how can I admit I’m almost glad of it
          when you no longer recognize
          yourself in photographs
          the mirror becoming stranger
          until one day—will it be soon?—
          you’ll look in my face / once again
          seeing nothing of yourself
          reflected in it, and—unsure
          of all that you were and all
          that you are—ask me: who are you?


Copyright © 2019 by Lee Ann Roripaugh. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on July 24, 2019, by the Academy of American Poets.

About this Poem

“‘#to my mother’s dementia #kaze no denwa’ is part of a series of ‘wind phone’ (kaze no denwa) poems inspired by a disconnected phone booth in Japan where people have been pilgrimaging to speak to their dead following the 2011 Tohoku earthquake and tsunami. I was so moved by this story that I began to wonder what it might mean to write ‘wind phone’ poems—poems addressed to what is irrevocably lost and/or disappearing, what has been forcibly taken or erased, what one wishes to save even if/when it can’t be saved. These poems have become a vehicle for me to consider and mourn mass extinction, potential environmental collapse, as well as more personal losses and traumas—including witnessing my elderly parents’ minds and memories rapidly evanesce from dementia like glaciers in a too-warm sea. In this particular poem about my mother’s dementia, which has lessened the severity of her undiagnosed mental illness, I mourn the ways in which she was unable to parent me. At the same time, in the reversal of roles in which I parent and care for her now, I’ve discovered a hard-won tenderness which—in the way of all things about to disappear in a crucial tipping point—I feel exists at the precipice of violent loss.”
—Lee Ann Roripaugh