© 2011 - David Campbell
Winner, 2011, 'The Bronze Swagman Award' Winton, Queensland.
My mother sits beside the bed, a quiet, tranquil scene,
but then, once more, a sense of dread destroys what might have been.
I see the wasteland in her eyes…a barren, lonely place
where nods and smiles cannot disguise the sadness in her face.
She walks where no-one else can go, quite deaf and dumb and blind
to anything she used to know, for darkness clouds her mind.
Instead she sees a phantom world, where truth and dreams combine,
like silken threads of cobwebs curled around a withered vine.
And I can’t help the way I feel, the thoughts I can’t deny,
the hurt that simply will not heal, the anger that won’t die.
I still resent what she’s become, what she has done to me,
and then my guilt just leaves me numb, for I can’t set her free.
Where once was love, there’s only fear at what she now might say;
I hate to think what I might hear, the price I’ll have to pay.
She heaves a sigh and takes my hand, then rips my life apart.
I know she doesn’t understand, but yet she breaks my heart.
“Please tell me, dear, how is my boy? I’ve not seen him for years.
He used to bring me so much joy, but now there’s only tears.
I loved him so, my only son, and thought he felt the same;
I cannot think what I have done to give him cause for blame.
I see him out there on the track…he goes to meet his Dad,
and then they both come striding back…he’s such a handsome lad.
The son and father, side by side, both look so very fine,
and I stand watching, filled with pride to know that they are mine.
But now they’re gone, I don’t know where, and I am banished here,
with one small room, a bed, a chair…they’ve let me disappear.
I can’t believe that they’d do this, just simply walk away
without a word, a smile, a kiss, to help me through each day.”
I want to shout “That isn’t true!” but muffle any curse,
for arguing does not get through, and only makes it worse.
Dementia stalks its helpless prey, and strikes with subtle force;
relentlessly, that slow decay pursues its deadly course.
Her memory would wax and wane, and often she accused
my Dad and I of some campaign to keep her all confused.
Then came the day she got quite lost while visiting a friend,
and that was when we learnt the cost, and knew where this would end.
This trauma took away her life…where once she’d always led
as daughter, mother, loving wife, a stranger walked instead.
She had to be in full-time care, a choice that we regret,
but back at home, to our despair, her needs could not be met.
My father will not visit now…he cannot stand the pain,
and tells himself that still, somehow, she’ll be herself again.
So I am left to face her grief, to see her slowly age,
accepting that there’s no relief from unrelenting rage.
Yet as I watch her sitting there, a ghost of days now gone,
I find I’m even more aware of how her light once shone,
as she fought bushfire, drought and flood, and never ceased to strive
to save our land, our flesh and blood, and keep our dream alive.
For she was vibrant, strong and bold, a pioneer to all,
a woman who could not grow old, who answered any call.
She never let a neighbour down or turned back one in need,
and she was honoured in our town for thought and word and deed.
But now she’s trapped, she can’t escape this wasteland of the mind,
a hell that has no form or shape, that cannot be defined.
And then it comes, the fearful thought, though selfish it may be,
that no-one’s safe from getting caught…it might one day be me.