Monday, June 09, 2014

One Oar: A Journey with Alzheimer’s, poetry by Marie Bahlke

Book Review by Zinta Aistars

Paperback: 38 pages
Publisher: Christmas Cove Press, 2004
Price: $11.95
ISBN-10: 0975383302
ISBN-13: 978-0975383308

Now in her 90s, writer and poet Marie Bahlke began her writing career when she was in her 70s. She is living proof that it is never too late to chase and catch a dream. Alas, her poetry collection One Oar was inspired by the painful and difficult experience of living through her husband Harold’s struggle with Alzheimer’s and eventual demise.

Writing is often likened to therapy for its healing powers, and that refers not only to the writer, surely, but to the attentive reader. Bahlke’s courage in sharing her and her husband’s journey allows us to enter their intimate world, the world of a caring marriage, where one partner must gradually learn to let go of the other. With her poetry, her skill, her open heart, she allows us to feel along with her the bewilderment, the frustration, the grief, the loneliness, the desire to go on.

In the poem “Balancing,” Bahlke writes:

Half there, half gone
one oar in the our boat
what do I do—crawl to the bow
and paddle from there?
Move my pillow
to the middle of the bed?

How do I deal with
faucets that weep,
too many potatoes,
the Christmas tree stand,
a stranger’s kiss,
that shoebox full of foreign coins?

Filling out medical forms, the poet hesitates before checking off: widow. She sleeps in a half empty bed. Her damaged heart spreads its pain through her chest and catches in her throat. As we read, we know these emotions and sensations, too, and we know them in direct transfusion from her clear and unsentimental, brutally yet beautifully honest writing. One poem leads into the other to tell the story of this journey, and it is done with the rich beauty of a successful marriage, wife to husband and poet to words.

Interspersed between the poems are the black and white photographs of Steve Bahlke, lending poignant images of nature that offer both metaphor and healing.

One Oar was the winner of Writer’s Digest International Self-Published Book Awards. Bahlke continues to write, currently at work on her memoir.

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