Going Back to New Orleans

In April, will be returning to New Orleans after some years away, attending an occupational therapy conference downtown.  And will land aswirl in memories from those sowing wild oats years immediately after college, when I rented a Magazine Street apartment without window screens or furniture, bought a used mattress, card table and lawn chair, and sat on a sagging back porch with my Smith-Corona, struggling mightily with this frivolous puzzle, how to write a poem.  The previous summer, I’d spent at home in Fork Union, VA, working a failing farm with my father.  That time, too, glows in memory.  Here’s one of the first things I’d call a poem written on that Uptown porch:

A FISH STORY

I like a life

that grasps life,

one tipped a bit

to the instinctive

side,

that will dare the

touch of an

                     other.

I like Daddy

cornering a catfish

         pausing

still as a stump

arm-diving

         scooping the

                     yard of

                                 fish

from the pool

                                                        a raving

                                                                     urgent

muscle

and tossing again to cool freedom in the slipping

     water.

I like the background

the one that threw him

in four feet of water

     four feet long

                                 heels up

                    on a fish’s back

and all the brothers

laughing –

Like I say

the balance

slightly

            tipped.

Forgetting

“They tell me I shot myself in the chin, shot somebody else, too, but I don’t think that’s right.  What happened was I fell off a fruit wagon.”

That’s Dr. Wagner.  He’s a pharmacist, had his own small town pharmacy out in the Valley for years, seemed fine they say, until this happened.  I’m his occupational therapist.  It’s my job to determine how well he can perform his activities of daily living, things like brushing his teeth, making out a checkbook, but right now I’m conducting a cognitive screening called the O-Log.  Checking for orientation to place, time, person, and situation.  He’s not doing too well.  Problem is he’s lobotomized himself with an old German Luger and can’t recall that two weeks ago he shot his wife and their twelve-year old daughter, then turned the gun on himself.  So he does what they call confabulation, makes up something that seems probable in the moment, and even believes it.  Would be funny except.

Race home from work and get dressed for my brother’s birthday celebration at our sister’s house.  Leave in a huff halfway through after getting into an argument over the Confederate statues, which he has decided he worships now.  Where did that come from?  Out in the driveway, our sister wags her finger along the lines of,  “You don’t remember much of when we were kids do you?  You messed with him relentlessly and now you think he’s going to listen to your shit?”

“What are you talking about?” I ask.

“You know,” she replies, with that drum roll of the eyes sisters are so good at.

Next morning at the hospital I monitor the old pharmacist dressing and grooming.  He manages fine, functioning on remote control, stuff he’s done without thinking his whole life.  There’ll be an ugly court fight about this.  The cops stationed outside his door may lead him to jail or to a mental hospital or maybe even just to a nursing home and none of it will matter a whit to him.  He’s got a confabulous new story for every situation and it’s all just a walk in the park no matter what, which I guess is the beauty of blowing out your frontal lobes.  If you don’t remember it, did it ever even happen?  And if it never happened, what can you make up that might have, that at least for the moment anyway explains it all?