Dementia and Memory – Runners Up Entry

Last week, we announced the winner of the September flash competition on the theme of ‘dementia and memory’. This week, we’re publishing the runner-up entry as it was such a close vote and we think it’s an excellent piece our readers would like to see. The entry is by 70-year-old Abigail Ottley and we know many of you will relate to the experience conveyed in her poem.

About Abigail

Abigail Elizabeth Ottley is a former English teacher who was born and raised in a working-class home on the edge of East London. Since leaving teaching in 2004 due to a period of serious illness, she has dedicated much of her time to writing poetry and short fiction from her home in Penzance in Cornwall. She also continues to act as primary carer for her very elderly mother.

Abigail was a Pushcart Prize nominee in 2013 and over the past ten years her work has appeared in more than two hundred journals, magazines and anthologies. Some examples of these are The Lake, Atrium Poetry,The Atlanta Journal, Gnashing Teeth and Fragmented Voices. In 2020, a selection of Abigail’s work appeared in New Women’s Writing from Cornwall and in 2021 she was shortlisted for both the Cinnamon Press and The Three Trees pamphlet awards. She is a contributor to a number of anthologies published this year, including Close Up; Poems on Cancer, Grief, Hope and Healing, Morvoren: the Poetry of Sea-swimming and Cornwall, Secret and Hidden, a collection of short stories (2022). Dancing in the Dark, her essay on rape, was published in The Survivor Zine earlier this year.

My Mother Lives Inside My Head

An age ago she first moved in. Unpacked her books,
her cheap souvenirs, her fast-fading Kodak-colour memories,
her long-sleeved print blouses in easy-wash fabrics
worn with loose cut pants, soft-soled shoes.

She came with a few things like her plasma TV 
and her CD collection – Popular Songs from the Forties,
fresh-faced tenors, O Sole Mio, the concerts of André Rieu.
She brought with her also her life-sized baby doll 
that looks for all the world like it’s sleeping.
Its Moses basket reposes on the sofa.
Visitors are sometimes taken in.

With all these things and more she came
requiring that I give them houseroom.
I empty bedroom cupboards, lay fresh lining in my drawers
sweep dust and old friends from my shelves.
Many of my books have refugee status.
Others wait in boxes for storage. 
Yet others, fearing the charity shop,
sit, care-worn and anxious, on the stairs.

Since my mother moved in, I find it much harder  
to take adequate rest when I need it.
I notice how her sleeplessness, her litany of
ailments, is always more troubling than mine.
I am ageing too but she chooses not to see 
how, these days, my energies dwindle.
My birthdays are marked by mail order gifts. 
She seldom gives me anything I want.

Still, we get on well enough, my mother and I. 
I try to keep my temper. It’s never easy. 
She whines and wheedles. Often, I will fail. 

Hunched behind my eyes, she picks at my secrets. 
She is implacable, imperious, relentless.
See how she perches on my shoulder,
With her terrible claws. See 
how her crooked beak hooks.

Annual Poetry Competition

Theme: ‘The Environment’
Deadline: 31st October 2022 – Entries now closed

2 thoughts on “Dementia and Memory – Runners Up Entry”

  1. A fine poem with many telling details. There’s an underlying darkness, the creepiness of the life-size baby doll, and a great punch line – or claw line.

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