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Finding Meaning A Cloud

By Harriet Staff

Meaning A Cloud by J.W. Marshall chronicles the poet’s journey from patient to caregiver. The three-part collection travels from the neighborhood where he was hit by a car to the hospital where he recovered, and finally to the nursing home where he cared for his ailing mother after she suffered a stroke. Critic and poet Esther Altshul Helfgott explains how Marshall’s tender treatment of illness and grief helped her reflect upon her own loss in the Seattle Pi:

Reading this accident victim’s words helped me imagine what Abe might have been going through in the early stages of Alzheimer’s. As I watched Marshall struggle through placelessness and confusion, I could not help but think back to Abe’s attempts to express himself. How he must have wondered where his words were hiding. How upset he must have been when they fell out where they did not belong.

Helfgott is moved by Marshall’s response to his mother’s illness:

But this poet/son does not go along with his mother when she wants him to help her up from a fall. He calls 911. She has had a stroke. And now he, who was once victim becomes a caregiver who watches his mother struggle through her dying. He’s a good watcher, a good son. In his visits to the nursing home, he watches “her faking hymns” in the dining hall and reads with her in the library:

“The library door’s hard to get through
for this mother, son, and wheelchair stew
but there’s a limerick book
and we each like to look
at the one that rhymes rescue with screw you.”


Posted in Poetry News on Monday, October 11th, 2010 by Harriet Staff.