and then there was the day even words were gone

by Cate
Wild Poetry Forum
Third Place, December 2014
Judged by Philip Belcher

It started as a slow fade,
a bass beat mixed into the rumble
of the earth so low
no one heard it. Small things
were gone at first;
what he had eaten for lunch.
Had he eaten lunch?
A memory of something
that probably didn’t happen
but could have
so was all the more special.
It moved into closet spaces
and under stairs spaces.
There was once a photo of a man,
he was looking at the mirror
through a lens or perhaps light.

This morning he woke to a sky
of only greys, the sound
of crows someplace behind him,
an echo of a lake
he had once slept beside.
In the bathroom the water ran
through his fingers.
He did not look up,
he would not look up.
Who needs to see his own face,
to know he is still real.

One way, but certainly not the only way, to interpret this poem is to read it as a kind of meditation on the constriction of energies and capacities that accompanies old age or dementia. The reader cannot identify the “place” of the poem until the scene described in the last six lines. The poet skillfully keeps the reader off balance aurally (the slow fade that seems to continue indefinitely; it’s “so low / no one heard it” but still there) and spatially (Where are we? Outside? Near a closet or the stairs? Looking in a mirror? Looking at the sky?) The poem ends on a powerful elegiac note: “. . . he would not look up. / Who needs to see his own face, / to know he is still real?” This is a contemplation of what it means to be human and to know it. If I have misjudged the context of this poem—because it remains mysterious to me—I hope I can be forgiven. The poem’s ambiguities only increase my appreciation for it. --Philip Belcher