Several years ago, I was writing poems and hoping that they were heading towards a book-length work. I had plans. I had a handful of poems that fit those plans. Then one evening, I was talking with my mother on the phone and she said, “When we hang up, can you call your father and tell him to come get me? I’m ready to go home now.”
My mother was home. My father had handed her the phone. I’d just talked with him.
As I hung up the phone, it felt as if my entire world had shifted a bit on its axis. Everything was in the same position, but the earth was spinning differently. I’ll admit that I didn’t, couldn’t, imagine in the slightest what that journey was going to be like. As my father tried to take care of my mother at home, through the visiting healthcare aides, into the dementia unit at the hospital, leading ultimately to her death, the experience was like navigating a mirror-maze from 4,000 miles away.
And throughout it all, I wrote. You have to understand – my mother and I, we weren’t close, we weren’t warm, we weren’t confidantes or friends. My mother and I had a difficult relationship. I remember one afternoon when I was a teen my mother told me, “I can love you without liking you.” To be fair, my mother had a horrible childhood that would have destroyed most people. That she was even a partially functional or loving person is a miracle. For my whole life, I had thought of her as the rock from which I pushed away into the stream of my life.
What happens when that rock is gone? Who does a mother become when she forgets her children? Who are you when your mother doesn’t remember you exist?
Writing was the only way I knew to investigate these questions, to learn how to live in this world with its new tilt, its new orbit. In a little less than six months, the book of poems that I wrote about my mother, about myself, about the way one navigates in a world knocked akilter, will be released by Boreal Books, an imprint of Red Hen Press. Every Atom is comprised of poems not only about dementia, but about what identity is and how malleable it can be. I am pleased to show you the cover, because I think that the designers at Red Hen have really created something evocative and reflective of the poems, and of that time for me.
I’ll be writing more in the next six months about the book, about the process that created it, about the title and its nod to Walt Whitman, but right now, I just want to tell you that it’s real. It’s a book. I’m immensely proud of it, and I can’t wait to share it with you. Here are a few ways that you can stay in the loop:
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Otherwise stay tuned right here and let me know what you think about this incredible cover.