Jennifer Firestone: My name is Jennifer Firestone. And this is PoetryNow. This poem is about my father-in-law Bill Morell. He died of a disease called Lewy Body Dementia in May 2017 and we were incredibly close. I knew him for 22 years. He called me DIL, daughter-in-law.
To say something about what Lewy Body Dementia is. It's a progressive brain disorder. It comes with extreme paranoid delusions. And so the paintings on the wall of his house that he lived in for 41 years started to shift.
This is a demon that can take a grown brain and squash it to sponge. There is no loving the state of a decrepit mind that encourages a decrepit body. Is he sleeping or just not there? States of awareness flicker inside a gauzy lens. We’ve seen this before—in a film, the man disappearing as he stands right there, his body stolid.
Let’s say this man worked as an Assistant Principal and admired his own IQ.
Let’s say this man had a brutish body but was not a brute. All of this becomes portraiture but
there can be fractures of truth. Looking at him you think: Am I in this film or is this a vapory
memory? Has the world tilted so that language and bodily gestures are disproportionately
The demon called you and said, “Is this the son I hate?” The demon called the
police and said the doormat in front of the door has shifted. The demon called and said,
they are coming up from the floor, boring through and will take me. The demon locked the
nursing assistants in the room so they couldn’t get out. The demon said someone was
giving him arsenic. The demon hid his key, his phone, his TV remote control. The demon took
his sleep throughout the night.
This is not the way you’d like a man to rethink his masculinity. This is not a classic film.
The disappearing doesn’t equate to some great morality. It doesn’t end with a finishing
shine. There’s a moose he said, there’s a moose over there, and we look in the corner
where the sun pokes through.
Something about my brain says art and then cringes because translation is obscure.
Because a demon is unknown. Because interpretation reveals our own
limitations. But the language the man speaks is poetry—
reams of syllables severing and re-joining, rivers of sounds unhinged.
Snowy strings of sentences, databases malfunctioning. A static on the screen
that is audible. Dear demon, this film is reeling, becoming my memory, thickened with
my brain. The falseness of my image of this man is creating itself right now.
Sarah Geiss: That was Jennifer Firestone and her poem “The Demon.” I'm Sarah Geiss and this is PoetryNow, a production of the Poetry Foundation and the WFMT Radio Network. For more about this series go to poetryfoundation.org/poetrynow.