Are We Not Dead Yet?

My aunt was taken to the ER last Wednesday and then admitted into the hospital because her blood pressure was dangerously low.

The first three days were in what they call “medical step down”: less critical than ICU but too critical for the regular hospital floor. On day four she was downgraded to the regular unit, but in a control isolation room. This means you need to put on a gown before entering and wash your hands without fail.

She contracted an infection while in the nursing home and was on antibiotics for two weeks, but the bacteria was still in her system. The nursing home didn’t test her stool and so didn’t know she was still sick. Apparently you can die from such infections if you’re an old lady.

I think I know how this movie ends. But I don’t want to rush the scenes. And if I’m allowed some rewrites of the plot along the way, permit me to make sure my Old Lady doesn’t croak in the hospital. Perhaps she could be in a field of bright yellow flowers when it’s her time.

In this light

I can see the animal of truth

become you

unleashing equal parts delirium

and deliverance.

What can Time take

that you have not already

let go?

–excerpted from “Animal of Truth” by Jiwon Choi

Genesis

Old poems are where new poems come from.

                                                 ––Jiwon Choi

 

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Genesis

While rummaging through folders of old poems, I found the genesis of a current poem I wrote about my mother, and her diagnosed dementia.  Most of the work that I generate about my mother is not for public consumption, with the exception of the published pieces that hopefully provide a little insight.

This ‘mother’ poem was the spawn of two poems I’d written back when it became clear that there was something wrong with her mental capacity.    Both poems work to piece together bits of what I know and imagine of my mother’s childhood.

 

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Parent One: The Law of Gravity

 

 

She was diagnosed with this affliction back in 2011.   But I suspect that there was something wrong with her way before.  I am certain she had a strain of PTSD that was neither diagnosed nor addressed while I was growing up with her.

Both of my parents had it.  How could they not?  They’d lived through a war, had their family members sent to work camps, killed or drop dead from disease.

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Parent Two:  Knowing This is the End

I probably have it too.  Though I don’t dwell on it too often, it’s good to be aware of one’s fault lines and where they be.  I am not immune.

The poem these two old ones birthed has been published in the current issue, #109, of Hanging Loose Magazine:

…so what I have always known is true––you were a mother made up entirely of memories…

–from You Live in the Space Behind Your Eyes

Incidentally, this issue also features two remarkable poets who I just found out about: Jose Angel Araguz and Carole Bernstein.  They are worth a read.

 

 

 

In The Country of Memory

I used to live in Korea.   I was about two years old and living in my uncle’s house. My parents were not with me because they had just started their hustle in New York and they sent me back to Korea so that I could be cared for my aunt and uncle.  I lived with them for about three years before reuniting with my parents in New York City.

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I remember

But four decades later, part of me is still there.

As a writer, I dwell in what Ted Kooser calls the “Country of Memory,”:  “We each have our country of memory always within us, always open to exploration, and we hold this for most of our lives.”  Essentially, this is where your nostalgia and sorrow are alive and well, waiting for you to come by for your daily dose of sad memories and regret.  This is where I come for my Father memories.  He passed away in 2006 so this is all I got.

The surface of memory is like one of those Advent calendar with lots of little flaps under which you can see things.

––Ted Kooser, The Poetry Home Repair Manual

You will find that my first book of poetry, One Daughter is Worth Ten Sons, opens a lot flaps, especially the father ones.  It makes sense that I would write about my father, as our relationship was difficult at times.  But I didn’t realize how much I would miss him until it was too late.

 

Back to 1951

My father is forgetting my face as he lies dying

in the company of parrots in bright eye shadow and lips

like Christmas.

On a battery of wings, surrounded by a halo of flies,

he is lifted back to 1951, seventeen and hiding in the mountains,

living off bitter roots and small snakes,

giving the Red Army the finger.

 

He stayed there long after soldiers went back to their farm

and factory lives

while I tried to fit inside his tin can of a heart:

 

thou shalt not smoke

thou shalt not skip breakfast

thou shalt not end up an old maid . . .

 

Did Confucius say headstrong daughters must assume the venerable position?

 

Do it anyway: kowtow and contemplate remains of flesh and bone

melting into silt and soil.

––Jiwon Choi, “One Daughter is Worth Ten Sons”