End of an Old Man in a Dementia Ward by Dale Williams Barrigar

End of an Old Man in a Dementia Ward

He calls himself
Doctor Blackhawk Eliot Lincoln
and disappears into a dream
where he is a river boatman
reading the river
from his chair by the window.

Then, he’s in the desert
again, wearing his long,
Arab-Jewish holy hair dangling
over a mountain cave, and a river
of voices
for the one Primal Man.

He wears extra underwear
and a black, smashed stovepipe
hat that sits on his head as on the Cat
in the Hat
, and he keeps his important
papers in it, including a draft of the speech
he’ll be giving on the blood-dried battlefield.

When he walks, he carries a cane
because of a stroke, but he swipes
at the air with it. He doesn’t really use
it for balance at the age of 97—the cane
is an invisible stick from Flinn River Bottom
where farmers shot at him and Tom Sawyer.

Sturdy, mortal, hurting, weak, wrinkled, wry,
bending and unbending and bending
again, in all winds, forthright, filled
with fortitude and fantastic plans,
plans that will see him
live this out, plans he can stick to.

And now he is in Paris, drinking absinthe
from the infamous cane of Toulouse-Lautrec.
They’re laughing together, slapping,
hugging, goosing each other,
smoking hash and tobacco while passing
beautiful, gold-hearted whores on the street

as Ms. Green Fairy wings her way
into his fluttering, butterfly heart
again, again, and again he sees her there
turning away with sapphire wings,
her eyes hiding
now sadly blinking and crying.

There was a beautiful bobcat
and a roaming coyote
and they loved each other much
though they couldn’t live together
and after that night in the theater
when she found the letter in his pocket, she left.

Now he doesn’t move from the chair.
The window is darkness. He’s an angel
rising high, high, high above the skies.
Mother was right, our stories end
but this other air
just keeps right on flowing.

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Dale Williams Barrigar studied creative writing at Columbia College Chicago, Wichita State University, the University of Illinois, and the University of Illinois Chicago (PhD). He has poems, fiction, and reviews in Liquid Imagination, Columbia Poetry Review, Exquisite Corpse, Chiron Review, and Fifth Wednesday Journal, among others. He’s received an Illinois Arts Council Literary Award, and published a chapbook, Cowboy Prose Poems (Scientific Bindery Productions). He’s taught at a wide variety of institutions, including the University of Illinois Chicago, Wilbur Wright College, Lake Forest College, and Saint Leonard Parish School. He recently completed a long poetry collection. He lives near the Des Plaines River outside Chicago with Siberian Huskies and pit bulls.

Image Credit: A surreal rendition of dementia as discussed in NPS MedicineWise and Dementia Australia.