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Common Needs

December 9, 2009

by Robin Chapman

for Jim Martyn

My friend with ALS has moved to hospice.
Rick Steve’s tours of Europe streaming
on the Mac, a mouse he can click with a toe.
cough machine at the ready, biPap mask
for extra breath, for sleep, a meal pureed
to soup consistency. Time, still,
for visits, paying taxes, but I’m looking
up communication boards for the time
when speech goes too — this one,
pared to thirty-three commands —

may there be thirty-three angels for Jim,
wings color-coded, jerseys numbered,
to be called in for specialty plays —
moisten mouth, tighten mask,
move my thumbs, bring bed bath,
I’m hot, I’m cold;
angels of breathing,
angels of cough, angels of settling the pillow
under his head, his shoulders, his knees;
angels bearing the bedpan, diapers,
the urinal; and send the angel of attention
to watch his eyes, fixed on number 33,
summoning the angel of the call switch
to watch over sleep.

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Robin Chapman studied the acquisition of speech acts by children for forty years, and now writes poetry. Abundance, winner of the Cider Press Review Editors’ Award, is her newest book.

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  1. December 10, 2009 at 10:28 am

    This hit me – in part because it’s been a week of bad/scary news, in part because I’ve started reading Carla Zilbersmith‘s blog. What caught me right away – the flow of travelogue in contrast to the shrinking of the patient’s physical world, and the beautiful vision of angels as utility hockey players.

  2. bev
    December 10, 2009 at 6:52 pm

    Speaking as a former caregiver, you’ve captured well how life can become reduced to the mechanics of maintaining function, and how we look ahead for solutions to overwhelming problems.

  3. Marc
    December 10, 2009 at 10:47 pm

    I lost my mom to ALS a year ago. Several months after she was diagnosed, she lost the ability to speak. So she wrote. Until her writing was no longer legible. At which point she tapped on a keyboard; painstaking effort for a word or two. This is the nature of the illness. Vast amounts of effort for an increasingly diminished output – a compulsory sort of distillation. As communication became more difficult, the significance of every word grew. Less became more. She made every word count. So did we. Thanks for sharing this.

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