MEMORIES OF WORDS

He struggles to fetch a word.
You can see it in his face—
the word is in his brain trying to get out,
but can’t find the right path
in the neural network.
Sometimes a wrong word comes out.
He sees our puzzled looks,
realizes it and laughs.

I wheel him through the nursing home
to a sunny spot in the lounge
where he can see trees outside
and the small birds in the aviary,
like when we would sit on the patio,
watch the birds at his feeders,
compare output from our apple trees
or discuss whether he should take down
the locust—the pods make such a mess.
Among the garble of words
I hear: Birds. Beautiful. Look like finches.

His therapist uses various strategies
to help him re-learn and reconnect,
like rebuilding flexibility
in a muscle after an injury.
The abilities are there,
like muscle memory–
just have to be coaxed
back into working order.
She asks: which object is the spoon?
Which object is the brush? Are you sure?
Could you brush your hair with that?
Could you eat your cereal with that?
He shakes his head. No, that’s not right.
Thinks, then points again.

I hang on every word and realize,
among all the things he’s done in life,
he has been a man of words:
research papers published,
conference presentations delivered,
sermons preached,
silly puns at the dinner table.
I knew that, but never really
thought of him that way before.
My memories are mostly
things we did outdoors:
working in our gardens,
hiking in the mountains,
tromping through woods,
walking through the alfalfa field
collecting insects for his research.

But words are always there,
even when you can’t remember them.

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