A DWDC supporter shares his poetry on aging, memory loss, and planning ahead

In this special blog post, Calgary's Bob Canuel shares three original poems that dive into his personal experiences of getting older.

I have been writing poetry for most of my life. Since I’m now retired, I’ll let you guess how long that must be. Needless to say, though poetry has been a singular passion, there have been long periods when very little emerged for me. Raising two children, chasing jobs and mortgages and sustaining our marriage took up a lot of time and energy. My wife of more than 30 years, Beverley, and I relocated to Calgary in 2016 after residing in Southern Ontario for many years.

Since then, I’ve become an active participant in the writing communities here, particularly Alexandra Writers’ Centre Society, and found myself writing poetry more and more. In the 1990s, I was published in two small anthologies, now out of print of course, and more recently was awarded 1st Prize in the Calgary Poetry Contest for my poem, "Observations of an Emerging Dementia." In that same contest, I was also named Top Calgary Poet. I won Weekly Poetry Competition #15 at Wax Poetry and Art and was published in Issue Number 68 of The Prairie Journal. Time, inspiration and several hours a day permit me now to polish older works and, of course, write new ones.

In terms of these three pieces, “Inconceivable” and “An End of Days” are recent additions to a collection I am calling, The Freefire Poems. “Inconceivable” was written the day after Bev and I had been working on some minor changes to our last wills and testaments — a complicated subject here in Alberta. The next day I reflected on how strange it felt having spent those several hours thinking through what we wanted done in the event we were incapacitated or had passed away, and this poem was the result.

“An End of Days” was an exploration of my feelings about getting older, my body beginning to fail and how healing now took an inordinately long time indeed. I was also observing how important memories had become to me and how, for some reason, they'd become a kind of preoccupation. The reference to ‘awareness emerging from the bubble of pharmaceuticals’ was really my recollection of friends and family, now passed, and their struggle with chemo and radiation when they were dying of cancer.

The final poem, “Beyond Our Grasp,” was a personal observation of my own about how it felt to be getting older. The condition called senility, I felt, was not something that just happens one morning when you get up and no longer feel like yourself. It was more of a slow process that just creeps along by the inch so to speak. One of its characteristics, I thought, seemed to be a loss of memory, something I called The Great Forgetting. Hence, the poem emerged from those thoughts and feelings.

Inconceivable

codicils
and wills
leave you
strangely
out of place
and time
when black
lettering
concerns itself
with dying
while you are here 
imagining
you aren’t
and how decisions
in the light
of knowing
are less
about death
than about how
you want to live
when the withering
comes to
its fruition
and children
are tasked
with fulfilling
a parent’s
last
in a faraway
when their exit
is near
and the rules
of departure
are known
by sad expressions
bedside
or the shock
of denial
because death
was always
a remote thing
and a world
without the sight
and sound
and feel
of you
was thought to be
inconceivable

An End of Days

death
is present
and accounted
despite belief
and fear’s
diversions
from thoughts
on ageing
and our withering
appetites
in the lee
of life
and seasons
so like those
in memory’s
maze
where the sound
of ice
and metal
is clear
and the feel
of a body learning
of itself
is as plain
as the powder
on the walk
in need
of shovelling
or how the car
groans
after freezing
overnight
or how awareness
emerges slowly
from the bubble
of pharmaceuticals
taken
to numb
a healing
or overwhelm
the cancer
now spread
from lungs
or breasts
in a metastatic
furor
that portends
an end of days

Beyond Our Grasp

remembrance pales
by tiny fractions.

our days
are measured
in grams
of analgesics.

swift seasons
race.

the Great Forgetting
called senility,
vainly resisted,

emerges
by the inch
in the sacred night
of sleepless seniors

where even the dull
can feel urgent

and when simply knowing
the day of the week
becomes a reach
beyond our grasp.

Dying With Dignity Canada thanks Bob Canuel for generously sharing his incredible talent and work with us.


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