Exquisite Corpse - Issue 4
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Alzheimer's Disease
by Michael Collins

My eyes hungered for light, for color, the way someone's dry mouth may hunger for saliva. They became so sensitive if I touched them; they exploded in light, in showers or white sparks shooting as if from a fountain.
     -Jack Henry Abbott describing "blackout cells" in prison

Your brain has nowhere
to go; it mines holes in itself, grows
unnaturally, as a story transmogrifies
when retold. I know how it feels
when space abdicates; desire ricochets
through time bending reality into new forms,
pinning it there until it is indecipherable.

There was nowhere to go but their house,
no way to live except by their rules.
My mother decreed I would tell her the truth
about whatever she asked. Yet I knew,
if I did, I risked being found
corrupt. My whole life, I wanted to be strong
enough to forge a place where I was
invulnerable. I knew love was a drug,
controlling, painful when revoked. I knew
it was a necessary racket, another trick
to keep up appearances.

When their sentence is not specified, prisoners
say, the mind deems all things arbitrary.
The neurotransmitters are destroyed
by plaques and tangles; memories
from this universe fade. We are no longer
able to interact intellectually with the natural
world. Our moods and posture change.
We cannot employ tools correctly or understand
language. We are chiseling the walls
with stolen spoons. The holes go all the way
through. In prison there is no life
without trying to escape. We require
medication when our behavior becomes
agitated. We often wander inside, the way
adolescent Lakota enter the wild to request
the guidance of a spirit. In leaving,
we risk accidents, death, but it is the only way
we know to communicate our longing.

When dying, everything is reversed.
Actions become the only literal meaning;
statements exist as metaphors.
My voice said, "This means nothing,"
when we kissed. My body was pleading
for sustenance, locked in my head,
clawing holes in the tissues, through to the skull.

In times of drought, the shaman mounts his drum,
ascends to the sky, petitions, and returns with rain.
We sent our boys up there when it was the last place
to go. We planted our flag once and for keeps.
We did it to show our hegemony.

When the body cannot move,
space disappears; stories mold
to an emplotment of loneliness, the mind
our beaconless world. We threw bricks through
the windows of homes. We knew
whom our enemies were. The glass shattered.
The sanctity of the wall was destroyed.
The sharp wind took license. We owned nothing
but our longing, so it was spiritual. Our toes
were freezing then; even our knowledge, even
our pain was holy. We were tired of being
scared away from the boundaries
there was no room for us to discover
on our own. We could not tell you then,
but we knew you were dying in there.
We were trying to let you out.



Named because they attributed
the sickness to the influence of the stars.
History tells us that large populations in
small quarters facilitate its spread. In our kitchen

my sister and I would be squeezed between our parents
and the wall when we ate breakfast. We had to ask permission
to leave; my father knew not the heavens, but his children
conspired his overthrow. I rose early one morning, cracked eight eggs

into a bowl and beat them meticulously. I liked my family;
I wanted them to know. So I cooked the eggs until
they were neither raw nor dry. Before they came in,
I asked my mother to tell everyone I had made breakfast.

When she spoke, they kept their eyes on their plates like accomplices
in an interrogation, their heads hot, bodies dry and fatigued.
We know the virus spreads through the air, spoken and
silent: This much our inquires have established.

Reconnaissance reveals that antigenic shifting ( a structural change
in one or more crucial proteins) is responsible for the disease's yearly
variance, its repeated success in penetrating the anitbodies'
patrols. We are compelled to plot against it, wondering when

the rebels will succeed in something more devastating.
This bastard killed four times as many as World War I,
they'll tell you. Check the stats for yourself. My father
mandated that we all be in bed before he would sleep;

if nothing else, safety in the dark would be maintained.
I prowled into his room when I was terrified of my own.
It was not his own immune system, but the swift antibiotic
of violence, without which his body no longer understood itself,

that subdued my fearful invasion, punching my head, disabling
my intelligence. I could say he was awful;
I have written books about those seconds, the years
of infection that followed. But we were quarantined in that house

with our eyes patroling for intrigue. Sick for kindness, we tore
each other cell from cell for anything named an antidote. A disease
is easier to fight than to nurture; we often speak of heroic
battles. They can last forever, tragic, the work of epics,

all for the sake of a microscopic feeling, begging to be released.


"Today we wiped them off the face
of the earth: 63-7," I tell my father
excitedly, climbing
                                   into the car
after           school. "Don't you even try

to make it fair?" he asks, looking straight
ahead, like a surgeon squinting at an MRI.
Those with Aphasia have always communicated
better than they've spoken.

As a child,           I knew what
he was saying. So I learned
the only way to live
Hide your sickness. Always talk. Never

disclose. Aphasia dates           to Hypocrites;
its name glimmers like a golden chalice, divorced from
time,           a fresh cast spell,
mythological. Even the diagnostic specifications
(Broca's, Wernicke's), christened
                                                   with the names of
the men who planted their flags amidst the savage
brain, whose stories science students recite
like epics. Trauma to the brain causes Aphasia.

Prognosis: terminal tourism. Common words
clatter like the genealogy
                                      of Julio-Claudian
Emperors. We warp grammar the way
history straightens             time.

At Thanksgiving dinner,           my grandpa
                the Lions game. As usual,
                                                    the younger
children surround him. His conversations are short,
exhausting. He wears a smile
                                            like plate mail.

My oldest uncle welcomes me to his home.
My Aunt tells
                 the story of how the turkey never came out
right          until they began hosting the dinner
at their house.
                          "The Turkey Wars,"

she calls the arguments (how long
to cook the bird, up-side-down or not,
the men yelling not to let the god
damn white meat dry out           again.)

I nod. Aphasia causes us
                                   to misuse our vocabulary.
Often         we respond with words
                                                 easily remembered
and incorrect. Yes,
                                   we say, hi, thanks, fine, hell,
fuck. My uncle leans against the wall, breathing heavily,

left arm stretched above his head. When I was
young,      I gave myself a stomach ache, waiting
too long to go to the bathroom
                                             so I could keep talking
with him about the Cowboys trading Hershel Walker

to the Vikings. When he went for by-pass surgery,
     he held my gold
                            coin for luck.
Later,           he thanked me.
I knew he meant it. My mother said

grandpa never hit her, but
                                       my uncle got it
bad. As a young child,                   he lived
with his mother and grandparents, while his father
was in Korea. Didn't think he had to obey
                                                             his father

     once he came home. Now                  he lives half
                                                                            an hour
outside of town. His body has expanded      again,
filling the space he requires around him. In time,   we all die
from our own salvation. In succeeding,                 we condemn others

to mimicry, blasphemy. The metaphors grow distant,
reeking of pretense; our lives are an endless chain
of unactualized similes, a chronicle of vectors.
Approaching. Infinity? Aphasia? Is it through history

          language has become a tyrant? What was
the other word -
                     a clown?
Distraction. We listen, horrified,
determined as
                    Midas,      each sound another gilded

loss. My father told me,           when he was my
he would read a book    a day. I can see him receiving
his Ph.D. from the University of Michigan.
He wanted to go out to Arizona, some job in education

                     where he could really do something,
get his name on a building or two. They stayed
in Flint. My mother wouldn't leave
her family the way
                          I have. I can feel my writing

splitting away from me, increasingly urgent. There is much
to recount, and time          is short; I'm sure of it.
Aphasia is nothing
                          new; stories have never served
more than their master. Moses was powerless

          when my father beat me like a slave. Not Jesus,
     what they call a "bad attitude," laid
hands over my wounds. Imagine my desperate god
withdrawing deep inside me, kicking over

the Tower, scattering syllables,
                                           dispersing himself.
I demanded to be blamed for my injuries,
for them to make sense. I agreed to
the cacophonous space between us.

Understand. Aphasia is
                                the only safety.
This is the disease I have

Email: k96mc04@kzoo.edu

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