Poem of the Week | February 28, 2022

This week’s Poem of the Week is “Alzheimer’s translation: Homophonic I” by Alex Chertok.

Alex Chertok has poems and essays published or forthcoming in Ploughshares, The Kenyon Review Online, Pleiades, The Massachusetts Review, The Cincinnati Review, Copper Nickel, and Best New Poets 2016. He was runner-up in the North American Review’s 2019, and finalist in the 2021, James Hearst Poetry Prize, as well as finalist in the 2020 Third Coast Poetry Contest and 2021 Tupelo Quarterly Poetry Open Prize. He currently teaches through the Cornell Prison Education Program.


Alzheimer’s translation: Homophonic I

Your brother had, had said that she brought…..that he….not she….that he [laughter] was to bring some things up to where I live, to bring some items today and tomorrow he would come and bring me to his house so I could see the 3 kids and… uh… I could see Charlotte….and…..the uh….Charlotte….and Rosalie… uh…and… Henry…so, uh, if you could uh connect him, call him and tell your brother don’t forget your father’s waiting, you know, there’s gonna be, you know, getting things, items from you and be going, coming to your home, alright, I love you, Alex honey, okay, goodbye.

Father’s voice message

Poor father,
            head bed-rid, rent,
weak-heart claggy –

                          but knees fit.
He daughters his two grown sons.
Thinking’s gone too

gammy-legged; would just

slightly haze a hand mirror.
            Deep-wood hum in brain.

He knew once how to ply
            a record’s needle.

                          Clean piss,
claims his primary’s charts. Just

            that his parking lot
            is vastening. Dead

ringer for a universe.

            His mind’s duct is clogged, till all
human smelters’
                          outpour gender,

patient and slow.

If only it’s true how wetting
            with light
                          mends wounds,

a handsfree sewing.
            Sunning so the bones heal.

Light, enough of, will dress

in honey
            his whole burned life.


Author’s Note

My father’s decline has been achingly slow, like watching an icicle melt — and it comes of course with the hope that it won’t! that his weather will stay cold forever! But his progression is so stark in his voice messages, some of which I’ve saved, knowing they’d offer a kind of mile-marker, a lamppost that only language can. “Hi honey, it’s Dad” in April 2018 became “Alex, it’s Michael, it’s your father” in October 2020, then “Alex, it’s Michael Chertok” in December 2021, and it’s now the silence of someone for whom the phone is just another unspeakable artifact of the world. Time for him is measured in these erasures of intimacy. I have no doubt that, years from now, I’ll understand the reason I’m taking on this project. For now, undergirding these translations is the belief that my father and I are coauthoring these poems, that his words need resuscitating, that his life is a fading text, and that my role is to recover what’s on the verge of being lost.