Parkinson’s Disease

By Galway Kinnell 1927–2014 Galway Kinnell
While spoon-feeding him with one hand   
she holds his hand with her other hand,   
or rather lets it rest on top of his,
which is permanently clenched shut.   
When he turns his head away, she reaches   
around and puts in the spoonful blind.   
He will not accept the next morsel
until he has completely chewed this one.   
His bright squint tells her he finds
the shrimp she has just put in delicious.
Next to the voice and touch of those we love,   
food may be our last pleasure on earth—
a man on death row takes his T-bone   
in small bites and swishes each sip
of the jug wine around in his mouth,   
tomorrow will be too late for them to jolt   
this supper out of him. She strokes
his head very slowly, as if to cheer up
each separate discomfited hair sticking up   
from its root in his stricken brain.
Standing behind him, she presses
her check to his, kisses his jowl,
and his eyes seem to stop seeing
and do nothing but emit light.
Could heaven be a time, after we are dead,   
of remembering the knowledge
flesh had from flesh? The flesh
of his face is hard, perhaps
from years spent facing down others
until they fell back, and harder
from years of being himself faced down
and falling back in his turn, and harder still   
from all the while frowning
and beaming and worrying and shouting   
and probably letting go in rages.   
His face softens into a kind
of quizzical wince, as if one
of the other animals were working at   
getting the knack of the human smile.   
When picking up a cookie he uses   
both thumbtips to grip it
and push it against an index finger   
to secure it so that he can lift it.
She takes him then to the bathroom,   
where she lowers his pants and removes
the wet diaper and holds the spout of the bottle
to his old penis until he pisses all he can,
then puts on the fresh diaper and pulls up his pants.   
When they come out, she is facing him,   
walking backwards in front of him   
and holding his hands, pulling him   
when he stops, reminding him to step   
when he forgets and starts to pitch forward.   
She is leading her old father into the future   
as far as they can go, and she is walking   
him back into her childhood, where she stood   
in bare feet on the toes of his shoes   
and they foxtrotted on this same rug.
I watch them closely: she could be teaching him   
the last steps that one day she may teach me.
At this moment, he glints and shines,
as if it will be only a small dislocation
for him to pass from this paradise into the next.

Galway Kinnell, “Parkinson’s Disease” from Imperfect Thirst. Copyright © 1994 by Galway Kinnell. Reprinted with the permission of Houghton Mifflin Company. All rights reserved, www.houghtonmifflinbooks.com.

Source: Imperfect Thirst (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 1994)

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Poet Galway Kinnell 1927–2014

POET’S REGION U.S., New England

Subjects Growing Old, Nature, Activities, The Body, Living, Health & Illness, Family & Ancestors, Relationships, Eating & Drinking

 Galway  Kinnell

Biography

Galway Kinnell was an award-winning poet best known for poetry that connects the experiences of daily life to much larger poetic, spiritual, and cultural forces. Often focusing on the claims of nature and society on the individual, Kinnell’s poems explore psychological states in precise and sonorous free verse. Critic Morris Dickstein called Kinnell “one of the true master poets of his generation.” Dickstein added, “there are . . .

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Poem Categorization

SUBJECT Growing Old, Nature, Activities, The Body, Living, Health & Illness, Family & Ancestors, Relationships, Eating & Drinking

POET’S REGION U.S., New England

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Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

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