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Reviewed by Emily-Jane Hills Orford for Readers' Favorite
It is never easy to lose someone you love, but to lose them before they even die is beyond unbearable. Eileen’s partner was a brilliant mind, a math professor. With early-onset Alzheimer’s, he faded away quickly, dying at the age of 69. Eileen, a journalist, a writer, a poet, reached out to his parting soul through the written word: narrative, free verse, and epistolatory poetry. Now there’s a new term for poetry: epistolatory. I came across this form last year and I’ve found it fascinating to study the journalistic, letter form of poetic expression.
Eileen P Kennedy’s chapbook, Touch My Head Softly, observes the three stages of her partner’s ailment: before, during, and after. The first two sections begin with a different epistolatory reflection on what transpired during that phase, not just within their own secluded living space, but in the world around them. The first epistolatory, The First Decade of the Twenty-First Century, begins with notations on Harry Potter, Al Gore, George W. Bush, Al Qaeda, what her son did, and the first diagnosis. Different world events intersect the growing trauma at home and, then, “You underwent unsuccessful alternate therapies.” And, the sad finale: “You died of Alzheimer’s.”
If the reader doesn’t have tears in their eyes yet, they soon will. The free verse and sometimes narrative poetry that follows documents the angst and the pain the couple underwent, as one cares for the other, the one with Alzheimer’s, the one who is not always there. And, while the poet writes, “you murmur to yourself/ of the glory of the words/ shimmering on the page.” Prophetic words that shed light through the windows of the soul, the windows that, for an Alzheimer’s patient, are often blank, devoid of thought or emotion. This is a passionate and engaging read, one that will strike a chord with many, as Alzheimer’s, like cancer, has affected most families in one way or another. It’s a powerful tribute to those who have and are suffering and those who care. Stunningly, sublimely beautiful.