In this poem, Beth Copeland shows what it’s like to have Alzheimer’s

Video by Motionpoems.

Sometimes, what a poem does not say is the most important part.

That’s what Beth Copeland found while writing “Falling Lessons: Erasure One,” a poem that explored her father’s experience with Alzheimer’s disease.

Before his death four years ago, Copeland wrote a longer narrative piece about the last few years of his life. But then, she did something unusual: she deleted most of it.

That process of erasure was a way to put herself in her father’s place, replicating what had happened as his disease progressed.

“I became interested in the idea of erasure, because I felt that the process of erasure is a reflection of what happens to people when they have memory loss,” she said. “I found out as I was doing it that the distillation process made the poems stronger.”

“Erasure One” is the first in a series of three pieces. In each successive poem, Copeland used the same technique, erasing parts of the previous poem and distilling it to the words that are left behind.

Writing the series helped her understand more about her father’s mind near the end of his life, she said. “I had time to really reflect on the process that he had gone through … I think I did learn more about my father’s experience,” she said.

Director Anh Vu, working with the organization Motionpoems, brought Copeland’s poem to the screen in a short film. The film interweaves images of the natural world with books, papers and other evidence of academia — a combination of her father’s passions, Copeland said.

Copeland wrote more extensively about her parents, who both experienced dementia, in a new manuscript titled “Blue Honey,” which is seeking a publisher. “Writing about what happened to both of my parents has been an opportunity for me to process a lot of the feelings that family members have when they have someone in the family with some type of dementia,” she said.

You can watch Copeland’s poem above, or listen to it and read it below.

Falling Lessons: Erasure One

My father steps into a field of lost
sensation, sunflowers, a yellow star.

He lives in the garden without maps.

My father dreams through
what he feels and believes is real.

He loses his memory, his flesh,
his child with seawater eyes.

He forgets the fog.

We forgot to speak and snow was falling
on blue mountains, a vein

of childhood, blood, and sorrow.

I walk into this memory when my thoughts
start falling into a funnel, when I’m failing

to love, falling into a freeze-frame
where time fades like the flurry

of furious wings. I fall.

Beth Copeland’s second book Transcendental Telemarketer (BlazeVOX books, 2012) received the runner up award in the North Carolina Poetry Council’s 2013 Oscar Arnold Young Award for best poetry book by a North Carolina writer. Her first book Traveling through Glass received the 1999 Bright Hill Press Poetry Book Award. Copeland is an assistant professor of English at Methodist University in Fayetteville. She lives in a log cabin with her husband in North Carolina.