POEMS FOR JAN, by
MY HEART LEAPS
It is not as though
I rise in the morning
saying, I will love her today.
It is rather, as the clock strikes eleven
I become restless until I put the key
in the ignition and drive in
for our lunchtime reunion.
It has been so
for thousands of yesterdays.
Interrupted by meagre getaways
and explorations, and some complaints
about being “too tired.”
47 years since I first was
captivated by her dimples and dash.
The beating thing in my chest
leaps to be with her, even now,
as though nothing has changed.
20 years since we noticed
her first losses, memory lapses
that slashed her being
to that which you do
by habit and instinct:
eat, drink, cry out.
But not a word of affection.
Not a kiss.
No one should dare to use
that cliché, that tired song seller:
“undying love”, until they
have drunk deeply
the crimson death of love.
Did I not see the tragedy coming
in her amazing decision to go with me
on our life’s journey.
Did not her chest swell
to be joined to mine.
She and I were like mirrors
talking to each other.
I would not have understood this
she has lived these endless
in her wretched shell.
But now it feels too much.
I cannot endure her suffering,
and she should not.
Shall I refuse
to love her more, though I am
compelled to do it? Just today
I told her the truth, that I was
glad to be with her.
Did she not look
deep into my eyes
and into my words.
We are caught
unless she does
what only the dying can do.
Thoughts ride on the handlebars
and sit with her center row up front
in English, Math and Science.
In class, strange words
tumble from her mind, as though
someone else speaks them
and she giggles, and other children
After school, on her way home, she
talks to herself;
uses words like pieces of a puzzle,
moves them around until they fit.
She sings songs using her own lyrics,
and tunes, which can cause her to laugh
so hard she has to hold her bouncing belly.
Friends ask what is so funny.
But she can’t explain
what tickles her.
AR LAN Y MOR (On the sea shore) (Welsh folk song)
Ar lan y mor mae rhosys cochion;
Ar lan y mor mae lilis gwynion;
Ar lan y mor mae’ngharia inne
Yn cysgu’r nos a chodi’r bore.
Down by the sea are deep red roses,
Down by the sea are pure white litlies,
Down by the sea my love is dwelling
And sleeps by night and wakes at morning.
CREATOR GOD, I SING THY PRAISES
"AR LAN Y MOR"
by Jan Jones Hartford
Creator, God, I sing thy praises,
Forevermore, through all life’s stages.
My heart cries out your wondrous story.
O God, to you I give the glory.
On ev’ry mountain side and valley,
By ocean wide; in lowly alley.
I burst with joy, my spirit’s driven,
To drink the love you’ve freely given.
Let every person, tree and flower
Sing out your praises, hour by hour
May all who see, join in the chorus
Gift upon gift, created for us.
SONG OF DEMENTIA
She started her leave-taking
years ago, soon two decades.
“Where were you?” we would say.
Smiling as always, she would
sing her mantra, “All is well”.
Now we thirst in the desert
of her absence. We long for her
to come home,
so that we may again drink
from her deep spirit.
But then we also wonder
if we should sing to her,
“Don’t worry; we’ll be all right.
All is well.”
We arrive at the lake in early summer, before the
tourists, and before the water is warm with comfort.
Nevertheless she jumps from the car, disappears into
the bathroom and into her bathing suit, and without a
thought about the rest of us, grabbing a towel on the
run, she heads for the beach and the water.
Grudgingly, I follow (She shouldn’t be swimming
alone.). With heroic effort, I walk into the frigid
lake until the
icy water makes my knees wobble. I
stand there considering the shocking prospect of going
further, while she, enduring nothing of this painful
struggle, swims toward the deep like a fish, her body of
legs, arms and torso as one,
fit for life in the
These days are wet with longing
as she slides off her earthly pad
toward the ocean of the Other
beyond the touch of sorrow.
While I can, my hands
cradle her face and massage her temples
trying to soothe her damaged brain.
To my comfort
she murmurs appreciation.
Head tilted back on her head rest,
against her chest she lays her left hand
over her lifeless right, in the posture
of one preparing for the water.
Taking her hand
I say not yet, and she tightens
her fingers around mine.
But on this day she does not eat.
Our time is not for prolonging,
just touching, murmuring,
waiting until we get to the lake.
THINKING ABOUT THE END OF LIFE TOGETHER
We suffer endings.
Some folks may pause
and then go on down the road,
taunting us with a crow’s voice,
“Back to work, back to work.”
But if our hearts beat true,
we stop, and can go no further
is ready to lead us out.
Kneeling beside our broken heart
we cry into the darkness
until we hear a voice like ours say
“It is over.”
For the pianist, piano songs hover like angels
over mind and spirit and tongue
through one’s life, and when voice is done
they watch over our slow passage
offering melodies more familiar than our name.
Tiny blue-veined hands
direct the choirs
play the piano
create the supper
comfort the babies;
In the early years of her illness,
when she felt lost or frightened,
she screamed his name from
wherever she was, the house,
supermarket, clinic, church.
Now with names forgotten,
her soprano searches
the hallways of her home,
for something, someone.