by Carmen Ruggero
Issue 304 is a particularly emotional one for me. The original version of “Don’t Whisper That Good Night” was written five years ago; I’ve worked a lot with it since then. I wrote it after finding out that my father had Alzheimer’s. Dad is a chemist — a math wiz; he was literal in five languages, fluent in three. An extremely intelligent man.
Right now he’s strapped to a wheelchair and can’t remember language at all. He was just moved to a high-security facility because he tends to wander off. Somehow he’d figured out the combination to the main door and got out. Yep! That’s my dad. :-)
Many people in the advanced stages of Alzheimer’s are very miserable. They suffer horrible hallucinations and are very fearful of people and things. But my dad is still at work. In his world, he’s still a chemist. Now, he doesn’t talk to us — a word here and there. In fact, his language gets less and less comprehensible as time goes by. But even just a few months ago, if we asked him how he was doing, he’d tell us all about his work in the lab, and about the wonderful people he worked with.
On my last visit with him, we were in the lobby of the facility, and a man was playing the organ. Dad just sat there bobbing his head, saying nothing. So I went to the organist and asked if he knew how to play a tango. He did, and immediately my dad started conducting. So, if we have to withdraw from reality, we might as well go do the work we like to do and take with us what memories we like to keep. And, by the way, he also wrote poetry.
When I read Pratchett’s speech, I was touched by it for obvious reasons, though completely beside myself. Imagine picking this week to submit my poem without knowing what else you would be posting. What a coincidence.
I like Dylan’s work very much, but when I wrote “Don’t Whisper That Good Night,” I wasn’t really thinking about Dylan’s famous poem; I was just angry about my Dad’s health, and I spilled it on the page. It was after I’d written it that I recognized Dylan’s tone in it, and that’s why I acknowledged him.
After this poem, I wrote “That Gaudy Red Hat.” I guess we can say I have an explosive side, though I didn’t know it, until forced to confront certain things in my life. Then my writing started changing. Eventually, I was able to write Last Tango on a Wintry Day. That one took a long time.
While studying Frank Silvera’s Theater of Being, I was taught that experience is what happens when one has traveled full circle, and recognizes the point of departure for the first time. In other words, I had to revisit certain emotions before my work could go to other levels.
We’ve always known we would die some day but don’t really think about it. It isn’t until we’re told how we’ll die, and in some cases, when, that it becomes real. Today, after reading Pratchett’s speech, I came full circle again. And though I have beaten cancer this time around, and I may never get it again, I am very aware of my own mortality. It’s a constant fight to stay above defeat.
But then again, we should count our blessings, because that’s what makes us tough. Then I read that Pratchett would rather die of cancer. Oh... my... goodness! Don’t you wish we had a choice? But I understood his reason for saying it. And when we learn that a friend or loved one faces an awful end, we hurt for them and ourselves, and sometimes we get angry, too.
Let me tell you a funny story about that. A long time ago, I was talking to a friend about chemo and cancer and death and upbeat topics in general, when I burst into tears and told her I wasn’t afraid of dying. It’s just that I’m so claustrophobic I simply die just thinking about being six feet under, inside a box.
Editora de Español e Inglés
Copyright © 2008 by Carmen Ruggero