What We Learn from the Demented
They struggle to find the word, and fail.
The word hovers near,
but they cannot touch it.
They shuffle among the disordered closets
and it is so close
but they cannot bring it into view.
The word will not surrender to them.
The sands of the brain are slipping
and they know it
and at times they rage
and at times, embarrassed, they smile.
Their lives become smaller, simpler,
and they become as simple as saints.
They go here, they go there
but they cannot name the places where they go.
These ones come, and these ones go,
but they cannot give them names.
They know us, but they cannot find our names.
They remember that they know the flowers,
but they cannot name the flowers.
They know that they know these tools,
but they cannot name the tools.
They have great things to tell us
and their stories have all the gesture and energy
of any great story
but the lost word hovers
somewhere out of the line of sight
somewhere just off the page.
And so they rage
or they smile
because the word is so cunning
and so cunningly hidden.
I love to sit with them
for they have
all the rage and grace of saints.
They teach me to be small.
They teach me to be simple.
They teach me how to speak
of that for which we have no word.
Michael Henson is author of a novel, a book of stories, and two books of poems. He writes a regular column for StreetVibes, the newspaper of the Greater Cincinnati Coalition for the Homeless and is a member of the Southern Appalachian Writers Cooperative. A third book of poems, The Dead Singing, is expected in early 2010.
"A front porch? A stoop, really. A worn granite block in front of our apartment. Under the lamplight, on a side street, in a Cincinnati neighborhood full of people displaced from the Appalachian mountains. If I brought my guitar out, it wouldn't take long. Someone would bring over another guitar, or a fiddle, and soon we would have a break from the sound of horns and sirens. Wildwood Flower instead of whatever was on the radio."