Poetry by a Carmel Valley resident inspired by a mother with Alzheimer’s disease
Del Mar Heights resident Dr. Ken Druck discusses the challenges of coping with an aging parent with dementia in his book, “Raising an Aging Parent.”
“The parent we knew is gone,” he wrote. “It also changes us. In the face of such a loss, we are also no longer the same person we were. But there is half of us who are still here, and over time that half will find the courage and strength to deal with this loss, figure out how to carry on, and even begin to write new chapters of life. This is the path of honor.
Michael Mark, who lives in Carmel Valley down the road from Druck, took this path quite literally, writing “Visiting her in Queens is more enlightening than a month in a monastery in Tibet.”
It is a collection of 24 poems that won the 2022 Rattle Chapbook Award from publisher Studio City Rattle. The reward is the publication of 8,000 volumes in Rattle’s collection series. Each year, thousands of poets submit their work to Rattle and winners receive a cash prize as well as the publication of their own collection which is distributed to Rattle’s more than 8,000 subscribers and is available for purchase on their website. .
“The response has been remarkable,” Mark said. “I get letters and emails. According to the publisher, it’s the best-selling book in Rattle’s history and it happened in just two weeks.
He believes the subject matter as well as his ability to communicate personal anecdotes convincingly led to the answer.
“My goal is to create emotion…to touch, to connect,” he said. “The accessibility of how I write and the universality of what I write about have combined for this (popularity).”
The 40-page book features poetically rendered vignettes of his relationship with his mother in her deteriorated condition due to Alzheimer’s disease. Mark also includes observations of his aging father as he deals with his wife’s issues.
“I didn’t write this with the intention of creating a book,” Mark said. “I wrote poems to capture the moment or to explore the moment in the relationship with my mother (during) the progression of my mother’s Alzheimer’s disease. … I looked up to my father as a caregiver.
Still, Mark said, he submitted the poems to various publications and they were accepted. At the insistence of his wife, Lois, he entered them into Rattle’s annual pageant.
“Rattle is up there with the Paris Review and the New Yorker as the most widely circulated poetry magazines in the world,” he said. “I didn’t think I had a chance.”
The pieces resonate with the agony, irony and humor of interacting with parents who are remnants of themselves.
In the opening piece, “Estelle”, the narrator recalls some of his mother’s quirks. She’d change the F’s on her report card to look like B’s. She’d get away with the butcher on 3/8 of a pound of corned beef for only a quarter pound.
The poem ends thus: “Now she has dropped her own memory.
Doctors say there is no way to reach it.
Some of the poems recount the often funny and frustrating situations that arise between Mark’s mother and father, such as in “What are The Odds”, in which the husband has to deal with his wife’s elusive behavior while traveling in a Atlantic City casinos. Another is “Losing my parents in a small CVS pharmacy”.
Other poems such as “Sparrow” deal with Mark’s interactions with Estelle, such as when she tells him she ate tuna when she actually had a lemon pound cake.
The title track suggests that her mother’s behavior is more enigmatic than a Buddhist monk’s answers to a novice’s questions:
“For the fourth time, my mother
asks: “How many children
do you have?’ I begin
Believe my answer
“Two, Mom” is wrong. Maybe
the lesson is that they are not mine”, …
Mark’s reference to a Tibetan monastery is based on his personal experience as he traveled to the Himalayas among many other destinations around the world.
Nor is he a novice in the literary world, since he has already had two fiction books published.
McMillan released “Toba” and “At the Hands of a Thief” when Mark was in his twenties after earning a master’s degree in creative writing from Binghamton University in New York.
Yet Mark gave up a promising career in creative literature to deploy his writing skills in the more lucrative world of advertising.
He and his wife moved from the East Coast to Carmel Valley 25 years ago. He started his own successful ad agency in San Diego County. The couple have two children who are now adults.
Becoming a blacksmith was not Mark’s initial career path. He was determined to enter the legal profession.
While attending college as a political scientist, Mark said, he submitted a story to a college literary magazine competition and won the prize.
Later, while attending a senior political science seminar, a man walked into the classroom.
“It was scary because he was a little short with shockingly long white hair and he was wearing a motorcycle outfit,” Mark said. “He’s wearing black leather pants, a black leather jacket and he had a black helmet under his arm, and he asked ‘Who is Michael Mark?'”
“I didn’t raise my hand because I thought it was the Angel of Death. The teacher pointed at me.
The strange biker took Mark outside the classroom and introduced himself as John Gardner, the famous novelist and professor of literature.
“He said, ‘You’re a writer.’ I said, ‘No no no, I’m going to law school. … I was born to be a lawyer. He said, ‘I don’t think you should.’ He offered me a full scholarship and helped me pay my rent and food to be part of his master of arts program.
Mark says he went home and told Lois what happened.
“She said, ‘Oh my God, I know John Gardner. We study it. She said, ‘You have to do it. Forget law school. You should be a writer.
“Once again, I did as she told me.”
For more information, visit www.michaeljmark.com and www.rattle.com.