KYSO Flash
Knock-Your-Socks-Off Art and Literature
Issue 10: Fall 2018
Poem: 401 words

The Pearl of Memory: Visit to the Dementia Ward

by Skip Eisiminger
Grasleben, Germany, 2008

Our earliest memories, 
especially those requiring grit 
on our part to learn
and which have a strong rhythm, 
are grains of sand which gravitate 
to the oyster’s core. 
Gradually, this riming grit is veiled 
by layers of memory. 
The result is a lustrous pearl,
but dementia is a vinegar bath 
that dissolves memories
in the reverse order 
they were laid down. 
Before death dims
the last shimmer,
the songs of childhood 
are glistening gems lying alone 
in the core of the brain.


Mute with tears and jetlag, 
Ingrid sat stroking 
her mother’s age-dappled hands, 
the thin-blue skin 
smooth as a convent’s Bible.

One expects the dry, darker layers
of an onion to crumble, 
but pneumonia and dementia 
had bitten through multiple strata 
of Mutti’s tight, 
concentric spheres 
where, “What color is this leaf?” 
was brightly answered, “Six!” 
and, “What day is this?” 
bled into, “Orange?”
Hiking the Brocken, 
winning the house in the lottery, 
the air raids of the Greater War, 
Oddie’s escape from the POW camp, 
the grandbabies, 
and some days even her sons—
these were the shards of her bowl 
rocking in a breeze 
blowing through the ward window. 
Indeed, only the onion’s core 
was left, that translucent sanctum, 
the crypt beneath the altar, 
where the fox forever steals the goose, 
one taler buys a milk cow, 
and Little Hans leaves home again. 
Only those childhood rimes, 
her daughter’s name, 
a few animal sounds, 
her left hand’s renewed dominance, 
and the shame of soiling herself 

We tried to get others to sing, 
but Frau Jankowski 
still had many of the old censors in place 
and refused to play. 
Frau Knödel, an ex-Kindergarten teacher, 
surely knew the songs, 
but she just toddled by nervously 
looking for her “lost children.”

With one hand on the wheelchair, 
Ingrid positioned herself, 
and while singing “Dark-red roses 
are tendered to beautiful women,” 
she pressed the balky bladder 
through her mother’s diaper 
until she felt the warmth.
Softly, Ingrid kissed Mutti’s cheek 
and chanted the old nocturnal refrain, 
“Sweet dreams of sour pickles,” 
to which her mother responded, 
“But don’t eat them up.”

Leaving, Ingrid drew her tears 
along the back of a finger 
without marring her makeup 
and wiped her hands along 
the stainless-steel railing.
They were tricks her mother
had taught her 
in a time out of memory.


—From The Mutti Sequence of poems, for Ilse “Mutti” Barmwater (1918-2009)

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