Earth, sole witness to our entire history, remembers everything in ways we cannot fully appreciate. The Celts considered trees as sacred entities, recognizing them as repositories of memory, lore and spirit-beings. The memory of all species is necessary to recall, to revive all that is lost.
I reflected on these things when my long-time friend, Jack, was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. I took up his forgetting as an invitation from Earth into my own forgetting and began to write a Japanese form of poetry called haibun, which is a combination of prose and haiku poetry.
In these poems, excerpted from winter heart, the prose expresses my observations of a person with Alzheimer’s disease, followed by a pause before imagination leaps across the white space to the haiku, creating and exposing the disarray in the structure and functioning of the planet.
Diagnosis and a scream gathers then flings itself into the public sphere. Fear runs through cobbled streets. There is no signpost for belief because without being told I know the future.
but the glacier dead ahead
Shadows refuse to leave. Questions repeat. Post-it notes instruct the china cupboard. Another man’s shoes worn home seek privacy in a dresser drawer. I have no plan for a riddled memory and the last syllables, closest to the heart, are difficult to speak.
axe and saw
what do we tell the trees
before we cut them
Each time we meet it’s as though I’ve travelled a great distance and my arrival is a surprise, a treat, a joyful event. Some days my presence is a gift. Why would I want to be anywhere else?
follow sea turtle hatchlings
He regularly misreads the time, but it’s spring and the country has adjusted its clocks so taking his arm I move his wristwatch forward.
no sound in the pond—
never too late
He’s happy to see me, gives me a book, the newspaper, pictures from his pocket. We go to his room and he shows me the lamp he thinks he designed and turns the switch the way a village lights porch lamps to guide fishermen lost at sea.
on the backs of salmon
an oilfield burning
Thirty years rush through my mind. Memories crowd blood rafters pressed against the forehead. A madness the heart clutches. The whole world a diminished dream and I wonder why the earth isn’t covered with tears.
along mountain roads
on Vancouver Island not
one wolverine left