A Friend’s Umbrella

by Lawrence Raab

Ralph Waldo Emerson, toward the end
of his life, found the names
of familiar objects escaping him.
He wanted to say something about a window,
or a table, or a book on a table.

But the word wasn't there,
although other words could still suggest
the shape of what he meant.
Then someone, his wife perhaps,

would understand: "Yes, window! I'm sorry,
is there a draft?" He'd nod.
She'd rise. Once a friend dropped by
to visit, shook out his umbrella
in the hall, remarked upon the rain.

Later the word umbrella
vanished and became
the thing that strangers take away.

Paper, pen, table, book:
was it possible for a man to think
without them? To know
that he was thinking? We remember
that we forget, he'd written once,
before he started to forget.

Three times he was told
that Longfellow had died.

Without the past, the present
lay around him like the sea.
Or like a ship, becalmed,
upon the sea. He smiled

to think he was the captain then,
gazing off into whiteness,
waiting for the wind to rise.


  1. Enjoy it while we can, right ?

  2. I sometimes feel this way. So far I;m lucky and the words return to me. I fear Alzheimer's as I watched it take my grandmother away. Away to wherever she was...she wasn't in her body, or was she? An unanswered question? Mom and I do puzzles,crosswords, anything to keep the words flowing.

  3. The metaphor of the ship and the sea is so apt.

  4. Fantastic description of a horrible disease.

  5. Hello there, my dear Distracted friend,

    In my youth I had a friend with whom I eventually made it to the tip of the Yucatan and back by plane, commercial bus, ferry, canoe, tour bus, boat, foot, and train. He spoke three languages and contracted HIV. The virus robbed him of the right words in the right places and, eventually, his life. From me, he wanted to go to Disneyland, so we did. And my last visit to him in a San Francisco hospital room included sounds and smells as gifts--words were no longer on the menu.

    You know better than I that the big A is hardly the only robber of words. Wonderful poem.

  6. So tragic to think of a poet losing her or her words. I didn't know this about Emerson. I am so terrified of that disease, having seen what it did to my mom, having watched my mom die as a result of it. There, I said it.

  7. Oh, see, I wrote "her or her" rather than "her or his" ... oh, God, it's happening, isn't it?

  8. Well, there's THAT to worry about and then I worry about the fact that when I'm with patients who have the type of aphasia where they put in other words for the words they've lost--a word salad of sorts--and I know exactly what they are talking about. I don't even notice the incorrect words. That can't be right...:>)

  9. Well, I think we communicate with way more than words, so you are "tuning in." By the way, a show tonight on PBS (Nova?) showed how a sensory-rich, enjoyable environment can improve the memory of both mice and people. Good to seek out in any case! (They also mentioned coffee.)

  10. Just spoke for over an hour yesterday with my friend whose husband is now this way and has gone into constant care. Sad that the mind wants this for some. Sad for those it's happening to - sad for those who watch. And hard. A burden we shouldn't have to bear on top of all that life has made us endure - only to be ladled with this at the end.


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Hey, thanks for your thoughts and your time:>)

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