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What is the interpretation of this poem "Alzheimer's" by Kelly Cherry?
He stands at the door, a crazy old man
Back from the hospital, is mind ratling
Like the suitcase, swingin from his hand,
That contains shaving cream, a piggy bank
A book he sometimes pretends to read,
His clothes. On the brick wall besides him
Roses and colubmine slug it out for space, claw the mortar.
The sun is shining, as it does late in the aftrnoon
In England, after rain.
Sun hardens the house, reifies it,
Strikes the iron grillwork like smithy
And sprks fly off, burnig in the bushes-
While the white wood trime defines solidity in space.
This is his house. He remembers it as his,
Remembers the walkway he built between the front room
And the garage, the rhododendron he planted in back,
The car he used to drive. He remembers himself,
A younger man, in a tweed hat, a man who loved
Music. There is no time for that now. No time for music,
The peculiar screeching of strings, the luxurious
Fiddling with emotion.
Other things have become more urgent.
Other matters are now of greater import, have more
Consequence, must be attended to. The first
Thing he must do, now that he is home, is decide who
This woman is, this old, white-haired woman
Standing here in the doorway,
Welcoming him in.
2 Answers | Add Yours
Everyone comes to a poem with a different background, a different set of life experiences, different education so a poem can have many interpretations. Often, learned critics will unite in identifying a central theme, but sometimes 'the man in the street' may have his own insights and they are valid too. I will speak as one who Has actually had experience of a person with with this disease:
Firstly, this brilliant poem gives readers a clue in the title - as this can be a confusing subject for everyone (not least the victim) it is good to have the guideline. An old gentleman has been in hospital and is returning home to his wife. Even without the title we know he is not always rational ('crazy' - the piggy bank in the suitcase - brains rattling.') The poem continues in the style of his mind racing,taking in the things he sees in the way he sees them - (sunlight first,sparkling raindrops,the house highlighted,rosebushes that were once obviously a central pre-occupation for him.)
The next bit of the poem underlines the way in which memory is actually lost - not necessarily chronologically. In some dementias patients have a perfect recollection of childhood events but cannot remember what they were told 2 minutes ago. The short term memory loss becomes painfully obvious in the last part - he does not recognise his wife. He is used to being a busy professional man of purpose - now the only thing he can apply that to is working out who his life-partner is.
The poem "Alzheimer's" begins by showing a current state of the man. We are introduced to his character as having odd objects in his possession such as the piggy bank and the book. The reader is made aware that the man can no longer read because he fakes it with his book. Around him are issues in conflict much like the state of his mind; For example, "Roses and columbine slug it out for space, claw the mortar." Yet, the man has familiars in his life such as the sun shining and the rain.
Following the familiar things arrives the turmoil such as the sparks flying off and burning the bushes. While this may be reflected sunlight, to the man it is unfamiliar, and he can not perceive it as the sunlight.
Again he remembers his past and the improvements he had made to the property. He remembers himself as a younger man and recalls loving music, but once again he is drawn back into a state of confusion. In the state of forgotten memories music is only a noise.
He pulled into the present away from comforting memories and he is there with no memory of his wife who is in the doorway.
The poet illustrates the dynamics of Alzheimer which causes its victims to move in and out of short term and long term memory.
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