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LOOKING AFTER by John Daniel


A Son's Memoir

by John Daniel

Pub Date: Oct. 15th, 1996
ISBN: 1-887178-23-6
Publisher: Counterpoint

 Frankly autotherapeutic and, after a writerly start, wildly in need of pruning--though capable of uncommon felicity in rendering the nuances of a mother's dementia. Daniel, nature poet and essayist (The Trail Home, 1992), spirals through the streams of his self-consciousness in search of a sense of unity. He obsesses insistently, over his unhappy childhood, his protracted coming of age in the psychedelic counterculture, and his bittersweet challenge as caretaker of his fading, octogenarian mother, Zilla; and he is often too tortured to sustain the micro-mastery of capturing Zilla's surprise on looking down and seeing food on her plate midway through a meal, her stillness as ``less like peace and more like vacancy,'' the cost to a marriage (the utter forfeiture of spontaneity) endemic to the territory of those attending an afflicted parent. Luckily, Zilla too was a seeker of unity--and a feisty one--who went from commune to ashram in her 70s, and the spiritual affinity between mother and son was among the reciprocities that bonded them during her four years in his Oregon home. Aware enough to take pleasure in Daniel's poetry readings, she was also still alert enough to suffer from a knowledge of her failing body. Like her creeping deafness, it became his burden also. ``I knew she was blameless, and yet I blamed her''--universal enough, but then there's more--``because she was what I got for a child.'' Daniel juxtaposes his despair over Zilla with his stillborn hopes for progeny--one among many bitter second guesses--until he relaxes into an aptly delineated epiphany: now 45, ``I've reached limits I'm unlikely to transcend.'' In his relentless indulgence in self-examination, Daniel wears out his welcome long before the book's end, but his talent for fastidious apprehension cannot be dismissed.