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Poem of the Week: “Alzheimer’s Villanelle” by Leontia Flynn

Leontia Flynn’s “Alzheimer’s Villanelle” portrays a dark but relatable experience for anyone who has watched a loved one suffer from the debilitating disease. The poem asks for the reader to reflect on the ways they relate to memory and the loss of it, and what constitutes a consciousness.

Alzheimer’s Villanelle

The human brain is a web of a hundred billion neurons, maybe as many as two hundred billion, with trillions of axons and dendrites exchanging quadrillions of messages by way of at least fifty different chemical transmitters. The organ with which we observe and make sense of the universe is, by a comfortable margin, the most complex object we know of in that universe.
And yet it is also a lump of meat … I wish he’d had a heart attack instead.
–Jonathan Franzen, ‘My Father’s Brain’, How to be Alone

‘I wish he’d had a heart attack instead’,
Jonathan Franzen wrote about his father,
of the slow, quick-slow disease that left him dead.

‘After they fished his brain out of his head
post-mortem, weighed and chopped it up like liver,
I wish he’d had a heart attack instead;

I wish he’d stopped at once. The doctors read
the small, clear signs (that little tissue sliver…)
of the slow, quick-slow disease that left him dead.’

Imagine a train delayed … delayed … delayed
that pulls up without passenger or driver.
I wish he’d had a heart attack instead

of that spectacle: our efforts round the bed
to cheer—like some incongruous bon viveurs—
off the slow, quick-slow disease that left him dead.

But did we? Had my father’s ‘soul’ quite fled?
I cannot say for sure—though no believer—
I wish he’d had a heart attack instead
of the slow-start disease that left him dead.

Leontia Flynn, from The Radio (2018)

Alzheimer's Villanelle by Leontia Flynn


Categories: Leontia Flynn, Poem of the WeekTags: ,

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