Vive le HSF-1! Vive le DAF-16!

Do not forget that janitors grow old.
They sweep up and they keep on sweeping up
on automatic, no need to be told.
They sweep until they age and pass the cup

to no one. Without replacements you forget.
Commemorative plaques give way to Plaque
Forgetful, and it is not over yet.
First memory, then muscles — the attack

moves on until the person who was you
subsides into a shadow form that leaves
but little more than molecules and glue
of the who it was your faithful lover grieves.

No one can stop the hell there is to pay
when janitors grow old, retire, can’t play.

 
————–
Hooray, they’ve found the key to keep our minds
preserved from dying at Alzheimer’s hands:
They’ve identified the janitorial kinds
of cells we share with worm C. elegans.

The scientists are cautious, but the press
exults as if they’ve found the holy grail.
A little worm shall lead us, they profess,
and if it does not, others in the pail

will serve to break Death’s hold on human brains.
With memories intact we shall not die!
The ONLY standing hurdle that remains
will fall, now we’ve the key with which to pry

our freedom from Alzheimer’s mortal clock.
Now ALL that’s left to do is find the lock.

The inspiration for this pair of sonnets was an AP article “Cleanup Crew Clears Way for Research. Scientists have discovered molecular janitors [one of these proteins is named HSF-1, and another is called DAF-16] that clear away a sticky protein that plays a role in Alzheimer’s disease until they get old and quit sweeping up. The finding helps explain why Alzheimer’s is a disease of aging. More importantly, it suggests a potential new weapon: drugs that give nature’s cleanup crews a boost….”

Bug is the New Thanksgiving Turkey

The turkey that lurked in the lee of the lemonade stand
through the hum of the summer, and most of the autumn, till now,
appears on my plate, and surprised — existentially here.
I’ve had a lot on my plate, but a livid, live turkey’s absurd.
Should not slaughter, dissection, and plucking precede being served
like a badminton cock, or a locker-room sock that has swerved
through the air with a flare lit to guide it. I guess I digress.
I open my eyes. Tom Turkey stands still on my plate
and for his conviction that we should, like he does, eat bugs
to stay lean, and less mean, and friendlier to our friends the birds.
He flies off and leaves me with crickets, ants, mealworms and beans.

Gin Real Practitioner

‘I am old,’ said the surgeon, ‘or given to drink.
Next year I shall be forty-seven.
In my surgery patients ask time off to think,
whispering, “ere he’s much older it’s Heaven
for our doctor”. There is little in my mien to leaven
their shock sighting lunch on my smock,
and at how my Mephisto shoes nibble my socks,
and how at lunch I slide under the table.
I’ve misplaced my house key, my Bentley’s in hock,
but my tremors don’t mean I’m not able.

Doctor No Much More

He feels the weight loss that he still calls hunger.
He wishes to hear English native spoke,
or was that spoken? Harder to remember
alone inside his nearing-empty mind
with him Humpty-Dumpty bumping down the wall
at the bottom of the garden. Night time falls.

He goes inside and lights the guttered candle.
He pours his cup, last of this morning’s tea.
He disinters a banger. It revolts him.
With eyes tight shut it’s nourishing, he assumes,
so he throws bits at the cat he found that’s blind
and they both eat tea in silence. Midnight falls.

It is early somewhere warmer, he is thinking.
Not stinking darkness. Never rising damp.
He takes his diary down and tears out pages
that he holds above the candle, watching smoke
glow into flame then falter and char dark.
The cat meows, which seems to say it all.

He watches ash fall on the antimacassar.
Downtown the church bells ding-toll 4 a.m.
The neighbour, the one working, starts her car
for commuting to the hospice where she reigns
when she isn’t drudging, which is usually always.
The candle gives the ghost up. All is dark.

A silver lining on an ancient bookmark
succumbs to tarnish and his nervous thumb.
He rubs. The cat meows. All is less clear
than they told him back when he was graduating
and when he bought this practice and became
the general practitioner for this town.

Mudflat Bat

The crescent moon hangs south, above the sea.
Out here in the Camargue the mud-flat bat
flies higher now. The atmosphere, you see,
has lightened. Insects lift, ensuring that
the mud-flat bat’s own mouth and mine won’t splat.
He flew so low on Wednesday that I feared
I’d swallow him in darkness, furry-eared
and sonaring the night. It scared him too.
Mosquitoes, the ones who Wednesday rudely jeered,
become his meal, malaria his stew.

Another ‘postcard’ — this one from the Camargue, a place of magic for me and part of the marshy delta where the Rhône river spreads out south of Avignon. In July the Camargue is hot and as dry as Arizona; in the winter two-thirds of it is underwater, sometimes only a few centimetres deep. I wrote this there one night, two miles north of the Mediterranean, standing out on a mudflat edge watching this particular bat inveigling me to write about him, or to open my mouth.

Lemon Hill

The poor and lame climb up this hill when the fruit begins to grow.
The going blind watch from the shade and squint at April’s glow.
When flowers finish blooming and the rain pails them away,
petals pour down darkling hills and pollen swims the bay.
In May the buds begin to swell, accelerate their slow
chill winter’s start and form gold orbs absorbing sun in rows.

June’s sun bakes shade from leafy trees where turgid spiders spin
the webs they lime to catch their prey that had its own chance when
down in the roots the fly-nests blew, and the buzz that blind men hate
teased sighted heads as flies laid eggs in eyes, to incubate.
July sees owners mend the wires delineating groves
and joke with wide-eyed pickers who’re returning here in droves.

The healthy climbers harvest two to the blind or cripple’s one
as all hands strive together in the sweltering August sun.
Hands reach up where the branches fork, and arms stretch down to throw
ripe lemons in reed baskets with a braggadocio
that helps them harvest money now, to live on when it’s slow
and dulled eyes shine reflecting back when fruit began to grow.

© Alan Reynolds. Published in THE ARMCHAIR AESTHETE, Issue 16, Summer, 2001, New York.
Having taken a ferry from an island to the Greek mainland, we cycled uphill to a lemon grove exuding a fragrance I thought literally ‘heavenly’ in a place that was an antonym of ‘haven.’ Half-starved cats, more semi-persecuted scavengers than pets, wandered among people suffering from white-eyed blindness that I guessed, perhaps correctly, came from blow-flies. And heptameter meter ‘chose me’ to try to portray the strange mix of richly fruiting trees with heat-stilled inhabitants.

Doctor No Much More

He feels the weight loss that he still calls hunger.
He wishes to hear English native spoke,
or was that spoken? Harder to remember
alone inside his nearing-empty mind
with him Humpty-Dumpty bumping down the wall
at the bottom of the garden. Night time falls.

He goes inside and lights the guttered candle.
He pours his cup, last of this morning’s tea.
He disinters a banger. It revolts him.
With eyes tight shut it’s nourishing, he assumes,
so he throws bits at the cat he found that’s blind
and they both eat tea in silence. Midnight falls.

It is early somewhere warmer, he is thinking.
Not stinking darkness. Never rising damp.
He takes his diary down and tears out pages
that he holds above the candle, watching smoke
glow into flame then falter and char dark.
The cat meows, which seems to say it all.

He watches ash fall on the antimacassar.
Downtown the church bells ding-toll 4 a.m.
The neighbour, the one working, starts her car
for commuting to the hospice where she reigns
when she isn’t drudging, which is usually always.
The candle gives the ghost up. All is dark.

A silver lining on an ancient bookmark
succumbs to tarnish and his nervous thumb.
He rubs. The cat meows. All is less clear
than they told him back when he was graduating
and when he bought this practice and became
the general practitioner for this town.