'My Mother Is Mad At The Sun': A Poet Reflects On His Mom's Alzheimer's Disease

May 10, 2019
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DAVID BIANCULLI, HOST:

We'll end today's show with a poem. Our classical music critic, Lloyd Schwartz, is also a poet. Last month, he received a Guggenheim Fellowship in poetry. He's also the poet laureate of his town, Somerville, Mass. Sunday is Mother's Day, so we thought it would be nice to hear him read a poem about his late mother, who had Alzheimer's disease. It's the title poem from his latest collection, which is called "Little Kisses."

LLOYD SCHWARTZ, BYLINE: (Reading) My mother is mad at the sun. She hates the daylight. One more new day. In a nursing home, stuck in a wheelchair, she thinks she's been abandoned. In the background, a woman's nonstop wail. My mother can barely hear me on the phone. She doesn't know she's speaking to her son. I have to tell her she's speaking to her son. Oh, then I'm not alone. I have a son. Please don't forget that. How could I forget that? And you - who are you? Are we related? Of course. Are you my father? Don't you remember your father? Are you my brother? You are my mother. I'm your mother? Of course. Was I a good mother? You were - you are a wonderful mother. I'm glad you're my son. What's your name? You don't remember? I can't think of it. I'm all mixed up. Are we related? You're my mother. Did I ask you that before? Yes. Are you angry? Why should I be angry? Because I'm so stupid.

(Reading) What lovely flowers, the nurse says. Did your son bring them? Who? Your son. Isn't this your son? He's my friend. I can't stop myself. Where is your son? Where's my son? What do you mean? Where is your son now? He's dead. Mrs. Schwartz, your son is on the phone. My son? Yes. Say hello. Hello. Hello. How are you feeling? Much better, thank you. Why did you call? I call you every day. Forgive me, darling. I didn't remember. Well, hello. How did you know I was here? This is my son. Isn't that right? You're my son, aren't you? You came out of my body. I'm your mother. Isn't that right? Isn't he handsome, even if he has a beard? I'm your mother. I'd love you no matter what you looked like, wouldn't I? Give me a little kiss, will ya, huh? What are you gonna miss, will ya, huh? Gosh, oh gee, why do you refuse? I can't see what you're gonna lose. So give me a little kiss, will ya, huh? And I'll give it right back to you. See. I know all the words. I probably won't remember them tomorrow.

(SOUNDBITE OF CHICK COREA'S "WHERE ARE YOU NOW? - A SUITE OF 8 PICTURES - PICTURE 4")

BIANCULLI: Lloyd Schwartz teaches in the Creative Writing MFA program at the University of Massachusetts Boston. He did a reading from his latest book of poems, which is called "Little Kisses."

(SOUNDBITE OF CHICK COREA'S "WHERE ARE YOU NOW? - A SUITE OF 8 PICTURES - PICTURE 4")

BIANCULLI: On Monday's show, British actor and writer Phoebe Waller-Bridge, who starred in and created the comedy series "Fleabag" and wrote and created the first season of "Killing Eve," which has just won a Peabody. Hope you can join us. FRESH AIR's executive producer is Danny Miller. Our technical director and engineer is Audrey Bentham, with additional engineering support from Joyce Lieberman and Julian Herzfeld. Our associate producer for digital media is Molly Seavy-Nesper. Roberta Shorrock directs the show. For Terry Gross, I'm David Bianculli.

(SOUNDBITE OF CHICK COREA'S "WHERE ARE YOU NOW? - A SUITE OF 8 PICTURES - PICTURE 4") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.