A Letter to My Father’s Lewy Body Dementia

Lewy, you are not pure—
          dementias seldom are.
I hear you are relentless,
          related like a sibling to Parkinson,
confused with your distant cousin Alzheimer.
          One doctor even says you are the most common disease no one’s ever heard of.
If you think that implies you are special,
          let me be clear—
no one’s going to celebrate your mystery,
          no one likes anyone from a family of killers.
You’re a sad ceremony that never ends.
          You confess nothing and anoint the body with cold—
cold blood, cold muscles, cold spine, cold hands.
          What do you want, now that you’re here—
to be a philosophy?
          You are that ancient and friendless,
but I will never welcome you like silence, or snow.

You chose my father,
          a man made of birds and trees, a man
planting his garden when you arrived.
                    Very rudely you ran right inside to
hide in the basement of his brain and
          steal his thoughts and
stack them in piles that don’t stand up.
          I never know when you’ll leap or
disconnect wiring in the corners of his mind.
          You are greedy,
packing up memories, smiles, songs he sang.
          It’s like you found his straws in the
pantry and slurped him away,
          even his voice—
you turned his words into wind,
          you’ll be his last breath.
You want everything,
          still there’s nothing I can give you to make you go away.


I made a map of our walks and colored it with magic markers.

The measurements begin and end by the coconut tree you planted
in your yard after the hurricane, where each spring
the nestlings—with their ravenous mouths—remind
you you’re starving to walk on bones as frail as theirs,
remind you that a bird is a man is a bird afraid of falling.

The Red line is .33 mile around your cul-de-sac. (Where you stop to pet neighbors’ dogs.)

Blue is .15 mile to the community mailboxes. (Where you wait for letters no one sends.)

Pink is .21 mile to the 20-mph speed limit sign. (Where you taught me to drive a stick shift in
your spiffy black convertible.)

Yellow is also .33 mile, along the pond lined with alligator signs, to the doggie-bag station.
(Where for years you walked your small white dogs before Mother
grabbed their leashes from your hardening hands.)

Purple is .50 mile to the olive-green house of people you never knew and never will.
(I warned you and Mother that, in Florida, loneliness would wrap around
your lives so far from me & begged you to come home to Maryland, where
you used to live. Where I am—1,034 miles north.)

I walked and measured each path when I was last with you
because during my visits you’re proud to know how far we’ve gone.
Because I know you’re trying to save yourself,
even though you don’t know that you cannot.

A 2022 finalist for the Annie Dillard Award in Creative Nonfiction and a 2012 Pushcart Prize winner for her essay “Dark Horse,” Lisa Couturier is author of a collection of essays, The Hopes of Snakes (Beacon Press), and the chapbook Animals / Bodies (Finishing Line Press), which won the 2015 Jean Pedrick Chapbook Prize from the New England Poetry Club. A notable essayist in Best American Essays, 2004, 2006, 2011, Couturier is a writer with the Sowell Collection in Literature, Community and the Natural World. She divides her time between Manhattan and Maryland—where she lives on an Agricultural Reserve, keeps her horses, and is an Associate Artist at Riverworks Art Center.