A visit from The Healing Muse: 'Sundowning' and 'The Last Piece'
Deirdre Neilen, PhD, shares a selection from Upstate‘s literary journal, “The Healing Muse,” every Sunday on “HealthLink on Air.” Neilen is the editor of the annual publication featuring fiction, poetry, essays and visual art focused on themes of medicine, illness, disability and healing. Read The Healing Muse Cafe Blog.
Today‘s selections are "Sundowning" by Lisa Wiley and "The Last Piece" by Joanne Clarkson. Order your copy of “The Healing Muse” today.
Deirdre Neilen, PhD: Aging can assume many guises. Poet Lisa Wiley teaches English at Erie Community College in Buffalo, New York. Her poem "Sundowning" describes a common occurrence in elder care, the eternal hope that this time the parent might remain calm and be able to sleep.
I used to race the feathered sunset
on summer nights when I embarked too late,
realized I had too many miles to make it home
before stars pierced an indigo sky.
I'd sport a white t-shirt so traffic might see me
a scout leader neighbor would pull over
to my side of the road, instructing me
to wear a headlight or start earlier.
I'd just pump my arms harder.
Now we race to my father-in-law's side
on late winter afternoons
when a cotton candy sun drops too soon
on his sharp, mathematical mind.
Gentle, humble, Teddy bear, his students said.
If we arrive in time, we guide him through
simple tasks like shaving, as he offers
lucid moments of secret childhood handshakes
before bedtime combat settles in.
Joanne Clarkson has published five poetry collections. Her poem "The Last Piece" describes a part of her job that was probably never in the job description, but which defines caring for the vulnerable.
"The Last Piece"
When, as a nurse, I visited homes
of the dying, jigsaw puzzles
were often spread across tables: kitchen,
coffee, card, bedside.
A thousand pieces a common theme.
I watched a wolf come together
in the woodlands. An orca leap
from the Salish Sea.
"It passes the time," Karl, always cheerful,
explained as his ragged heart stuttered
then thrummed. "It all makes sense this way,"
John's wife Nancy told me
since John could no longer speak.
It gave visitors something to explore
besides grief. They felt useful
finding a splinter of the weathered barn.
I drove boxes of fragments from house to house,
trading, and never lost a piece
as I listened to the whining breath
and measured pain on an impossible scale.
Karl gave away every puzzle except
the wolf. His daughter glued it
to a board, framed it after, tribute
to small connections
when the greatest was taken away.