The Tip of Your Tongue
Anomic aphasia is characterized by the inability to remember the appropriate word to identify an object, a person’s name, or numbers.
When you couldn’t recall your children’s names
that raced from you like leaves red and ochre
down the river that bordered the hospital,
we thought you’d lost most of what you’d cared for,
that kept you here. But the day after the stroke,
we learned it was only the names of things
you couldn’t surface: the handles of objects
and people, ideas too slippery to grasp,
suspended in middle space just beyond
recollection and the tip of your tongue.
Through the following weeks, conversation
became a parlor game (“two syllables,
sounds like…”), and you spoke in poetry
until the rewiring was complete,
and the world’s captioning reappeared.
And yet I’ll confess--although I treasured
each step as you got better--I wanted
that poetry to remain, to watch you
push aside the symbols, and labor
through frustration to share the living heart
of what made up your world--“bird leaf” for feather,
and “word box” for book. And most of all
I wanted to watch you, with every glance
at me, retrieve--not the shortcut of my name--
but just what it was that I meant to you.
Considering the person that I was
just past childhood--ignorant and beautiful,
adrift in an awful world with only
a trunk of oddments stored in the dorm room
of a friend, a backpack and sleeping bag,
and no more than a nickel to his name--
I find myself feeling sympathy
for that young man, a type of self-pity
for a specter who can’t profit from my care,
and who, if he could see my mortgages,
packed calendar, and over-stuffed garage,
would no doubt feel his own sense of sympathy
for a phantom so weighed down, his pity
mixed with terror at this premonition.
In the endless mending of this antique house,
I discovered a pocket watch last fall,
tucked into the eaves inside the hollow
of a soffit among shards of chicken bones
and shredded paper--trash and stolen oddments
that formed a long-abandoned rodent nest.
Suspended at the top of my ladder,
held within the air and in that moment,
its cold metal weighed heavy in my hand
as it grew into a fable, sunlight
glinting on its smoky brass and bezel
for the first time in a century.
But the name “Waltham” written in flowing script
on the movement was a one-word story
missing its moral; all the traits of a myth
were in place, except its significance:
time stolen back from a long-dead rat--
a metaphor whose meaning stayed hidden.
Hear It Out
In just three notes I recognized a song
I hadn’t heard in decades, and pressed “seek”
again to let it play itself through--
without sentiment or nostalgia,
with no need to climb down the frail trellis
of its staff to the summer of that soundtrack,
walk the eighth notes of the chorus to the bridge,
and wander lost in reminiscence.
I let it finish instead out of deference,
the sort of which you’d offer the elderly,
as they rise with effort to speak, regardless
of theme or occasion, the way you begin
to read obituaries at a certain age,
bearing witness to ensure that someone
observes their passing, hears their song,
in hopes that someone might return the favor.
These are days you try to reassemble
like scattered fragments of a treasure map,
now that your hands have grown blunt
and calloused, burdens themselves
you’re made to carry: the modeling clay
and finger paints, the taste of melted snow
sucked from the round ends of woolen mittens,
before the confused form of digits woven
with those of a girl whose last name is gone--
the clasp that signaled the end of childhood.
But those few years remain a hidden country
known only by the fractured account
told by a ghost, of the toad that hopped back
to the driveway’s dust after leaking cold pee
on your palm, a grasshopper cupped from the tip
of a timothy leaf, spitting a stain
of tobacco juice on your finger before
clicking away toward the summer sun.
Kevin Casey is the author of Ways to Make a Halo (Aldrich Press, 2018) and American Lotus, winner of the 2017 Kithara Prize (Glass Lyre Press, 2018). And Waking... was published by Bottom Dog Press in 2016. His poems have appeared in Rust+Moth, Valparaiso Poetry Review, Connotation Press, Pretty Owl Poetry, and Ted Kooser's syndicated column ‘American Life in Poetry.’ For more, visit andwaking.com.