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Poem for the Living Dead

by Chris Sorrenti


They line the halls of St. Pat’s rest home
in walkers and wheelchairs
some evidently still lucid
in varying degrees
with a smile and a “Hi!”
as they watch me walk by
to visit my dad
while others gaze blankly into space
thin streams of spittle
dripping tenuously from open mouths
that babble incoherently
the same message

Do they know what they’ve lost?
still feel the tug of independence?
tight as the diapers now forced to wear
or perhaps mercifully thanks to Dementia
too senile to realize...remember
what it was like to hold the world
in the palms of their hands

Some lie bed ridden in the latter stages
of any particular disease
active minds trapped in rigid bodies
that once ran marathons
danced to the latest craze till the wee hours
and made love with the same partner
to raise children...grandchildren
surpass 50th anniversaries
only to have that lover and best friend
cruelly snatched away
in the 'golden years'

But the law is the law
ever shining in its wisdom of black and white
no grey areas allowed within these somber walls
this prison without bars
as my father calls it
except on balding scalps once thick
in patterns of blonde...brunette...or red
waiting for supper
for some the only pleasure still enjoyed

No...
there’ll be no Euthanasia here tonight
and though this may all sound cold
how many of them if given half a chance
would eagerly drink down that elixir
of 'good death' of their own free will?

And as I walk out once more into fresh air
still free to run...dance...make love
what I’ve just witnessed
harkens me back to that Who standard
that as a teenager repelled
now echoes invitingly...
“I hope I die before I get old”

© 2011

1,030 hits as of November 2019

12/02/2011

Posted on 12/02/2011
Copyright © 2019 Chris Sorrenti

Member Comments on this Poem
Posted by Jim Benz on 12/02/11 at 09:00 PM

It's strange how we've systematically segregated the latter stages of life and aging from the rhythms of society, family, and daily existence. As if we don't want to be reminded, or inconvenienced, by what's in store for each of us. Of course, we do the same thing with death, so its no wonder we live in a culture that celebrates an illusion of perpetual youth as a multi-billion dollar industry. Personally, I think I'd rather step in front of a truck than get shuffled off to the warehouse. Then again, that's probably not fair to people who've dedicated their careers to providing elder-care services. Or those who want to hold on til the bitter end. But still ...

Posted by Kristina Woodhill on 12/02/11 at 10:26 PM

I'm having to deal with this now with my mom and step dad - not in a home yet, but with O2 tanks trailing them around like metal dogs, walkers with brakes so they don't break. It is not a pretty sight. You bring up some good points in those last two stanzas. I wonder what I will wish for then.

Posted by Kristina Woodhill on 12/02/11 at 10:27 PM

And I guess it's good to see a poem about the real living dead, instead of the vampire nonsense that seems to dominate some youth's reading and viewing choices right now. Romantic, it ain't.

Posted by Gabriel Ricard on 12/02/11 at 11:48 PM

I know it, man. I know it. This one hit harder than usual.

Posted by Alison McKenzie on 12/03/11 at 03:00 AM

Having experienced this poem from many different angles, except (touch wood) for the patient's point of view, I hear you and I pray, every day, that I never get old like that. I think if I knew was coming, I might wander out into a snow storm, let the cold send me to heaven, and hope that it didn't traumatize anyone come spring. I'm not saying all those folks should want that, it's just what I think I'd do, before I forgot.

Posted by Lori Blair on 12/03/11 at 09:52 PM

This hits me soulwise so truthfully hard. Many times we close our eyes to realities such as this forever hoping we don't live in such a space as that. But how long can we do so? So very well written, so vivid, so truthful!

Posted by Linda Fuller on 12/04/11 at 02:02 AM

I am reminded of a Stephen King short story collection (unfortunately I can remember neither the name of the collection nor the name of the particular story) in which, amid genre tales of horror, a mundane tale of a man visiting his dying mother in the hospital - the most horrific of all the stories. Your poem provokes thoughts we don't want to think.

Posted by Gregory O'Neill on 12/04/11 at 08:06 PM

When you're 50 or so you start thinking about things you haven't thought about before. I used to think getting old was about vanity—but actually it's about losing people you love. Getting wrinkles is trivial...Excellent poem here. Thanks.

Posted by Ken Harnisch on 12/08/11 at 06:53 PM

That second to last stanza, Chris, evokes questions I suspect a lot of us have asked ourselves and can't yet frame an answer...Not publicly, at least. Just stunning, this poem.

Posted by Kristine Briese on 12/10/11 at 05:51 PM

How incredibly sad, and yet so true. Heart-wrenching poem, Chris.

Posted by Morgan D Hafele on 12/11/11 at 09:34 PM

what can i say chris? this is amazing! and unfortunately all to familiar.

Posted by Laura Doom on 12/13/11 at 10:31 AM

Death seems to be the way to go, having seen the results of several enquiries into the treatment of the elderly in UK rest and residential homes.
Western culture revels in occupying the moral high ground, but doesn't seem to understand the concept of family.
Blah, blah (unlike your emotive discourse here).

Posted by Kate Demeree on 01/03/12 at 10:07 PM

I too have seen this and wondered... You still know how to make the reader .... feel! Well done Chris!

Posted by Quentin S Clingerman on 02/05/12 at 09:24 PM

Stark, poignant, all too real! Yes, one hopes to die before becoming an invalid in a nursing home.

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