Thursday, April 26, 2012

Yesterday, I included a photograph I had taken, of sea and rocks, in remote southwest Ireland. It is an isolated and lonely spot, where I love to swim, heading outwards, towards a flat horizon.

In Melissa Wilson’s play on dementia, Autobiographer, the cover of the accompanying book (Melissa Wilson, Autobiographer, Oberon Modern Plays, Oberon Books, London, 2012) depicts a woman in a billowing white dress, her body below water, with just her head above the surface. Towards the end of the play, Flora, who suffers from dementia, speaks of the sea, of waves and diving under them, ‘a fun game’. Suddenly she can no longer touch the bottom. The waves feel more threatening and the shore seems far away.

In the collection Beyond Forgetting: Poetry and Prose about Alzheimer’s Disease (Holly J Hughes ed, Kent State University Press, 2009), the poet David Mason uses a metaphorical sea to share his experience of watching his father’s progressive dementia. In the poem, The Inland Sea, the patients (his father was in a home) ‘drift, fish-jawed in their medicated stupors.’…’Drowned children’….’both past and future utterly dissolved.’

The poem ends:

‘Their beauty terrifies us, so we think

it like no beauty we have ever know

and leave them for the ordinary shore.’

In an accompanying note, Mason comments that his own horror watching those with dementia disintegrate and fragment was in fact misplaced, that even in their current state they were beautiful. But we need to rethink our idea of beauty to include them, and what they have become.