A volume of poetry looks at what it means to watch a parent fade.
In this unflinching, highly compelling collection, Spang (Those Close Beside Me, 2018, etc.) mines his own life for reflections on his childhood and mother. As Anna, his mother, crosses into her 10th decade, the author and his partner, Myles, move her into their home where they care for her, watching as her body and mind begin to fail. In an early poem, Spang describes her as “handy as a wrench,” mimicking the limited view children often have of their parents. But the collection winds from the author’s childhood to adulthood and becomes increasingly revealing along the way. The book is often worth reading for the nuggets of Anna’s life, like the fact that she danced with Martha Graham and that she, as Spang reports with gentle humor, insisted her less than faithful husband was “wonderful.” The author is able to infuse the volume with joy and compassion while shining a light on the more unflattering episodes that come with caring for an elderly parent. Recalling a particularly difficult moment helping his mother to the bathroom, he writes: “I hear a scream—who is it? / It’s me or what seems to be me / (there is no other way to say it) / screaming like I’ve gone out of my mind. / I slam my fist into the closet door, / and cry out, ‘I can’t take it!’ ” The vivid scene ends with mother comforting son, underscoring the ways in which physical dependency is not the only mode at play in their new dynamic. Dividing the intimate yet universal poems are quotes from writers like Czesław Miłosz, Robert Frost, and Walt Whitman, accompanied by simple images of nature by debut photographer Rightmire. Gardening—a hobby Spang and his mother seem to share—is a long-running theme in these pages. An especially arresting closing poem uses the language of gardens both earthly and biblical to make sense of Anna’s eventual death.
A gripping poetic meditation on aging and caregiving.