Oar: A Journey with Alzheimer’s, poetry by Marie Bahlke
Review by Zinta Aistars
Christmas Cove Press, 2004
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.
was the winner of Writer’s Digest International Self-Published Book Awards.
Bahlke continues to write, currently at work on her memoir.
Snacks by Andy Mozina
review by Zinta Aistars
Made in Michigan Writers Series
Wayne State University Press (May 1, 2014)
It begins with a lie. A good one. The author, after all,
is an expert liar. He disarms you for only a moment when he admits it, his
Andy Mozina, an
English professor at Kalamazoo College since 1999 and author of the new story
collection, Quality Snacks (Wayne
State University Press, May 2014), makes his admission, or confession, on air
recent interview for the Arts and More program at the WMUK radio station,
Kalamazoo’s NPR affiliate. Yes, he lies, he says.
As do all fiction writers, and Mozina is fast gaining
notoriety as such. Quality Snacks is Mozina’s
second story collection. His first, The
Women Were Leaving the Men, also published by Wayne State University Press
(2007), won the Great Lakes Colleges Association New Writers Award and was a
finalist for the Glasgow/Shenandoah Prize for Emerging Writer. His fiction has
appeared in numerous magazines, including Tin
House, Ecotone, Fence, The Southern Review, and The Missouri Review, and has
received special citations in Best American Short Stories, Pushcart
Prize, and New Stories from the
Midwest. His critical work, Joseph
Conrad and the Art of Sacrifice, was published by Routledge in 2001.
On the morning of his radio interview, talking about his
new book, Mozina enters the studio breathless. He abandoned his car, he says,
realizing that he was running late. The car was beached like a whale on the
grass, he says, with hazard lights blinking and doors swinging open as he tore
up the campus in his race to the studio.
Really? Not quite. As it turns out, Mozina’s car is
parked in its parking spot, squared between the yellow lines, doors locked,
lights off, engine cool.
Mozina grins, just a little. This is how he tells
stories, building on near nothing, embellishing, adding twists and surprises
and horseshoe turns on every page. He says he often begins his story idea with
the twist, then builds the story around it.
Snacks is a collection of
15 stories, each one with Mozina’s
signature sense of wry humor. The stories, for the most part, are built around
the efforts of middle-aged men struggling with relationship issues.
Santa Claus as a baseball player may not qualify as
middle-aged in the final story, “No Joy in Santa’s Village,” but he
nevertheless struggles with deteriorating relationships with his elves, who
have come to resent him for what they consider Santa’s shortcomings. In fact,
the elves in the dugout are showing a dark side as they clamor for Santa flesh
in retribution for those long winter nights.
dugout was filled with elves. Some never moved, some never sat still—whittling a
piece of wood into a bat, whittling the bat into baseballs, whittling the
baseballs into tiny bats, which were whittled into still tinier baseballs. Some
were incontinent, some respired entirely through their pores, like plants. Some
rooted for Santa, some cast spells against him. At each game they created a
locked-ward atmosphere in the dugout. Last year, one or another of the elves
would occasionally streak onto the field in the middle of a game, tear up a
piece of turf, and retreat toward the bench, gibbering hysterically, holding
the turf aloft.” (Page
184, No Joy in Santa’s Village)
As for Doritos, a popular snack by Frito-Lay, Mozina says
he once had an addiction for the chips, but, happily, has been able to conquer
it. His title story, “Quality Snacks,” is a story of a team of Frito-Lay
employees brainstorming new and vitamin-fortified flavors for the snack
(burrito, chicken quesadilla, enchilada, refried beans), perhaps even marketing
them as a main meal rather than just a snack.
Mozina won’t admit to a fear of dogs, but his opening
story, “Dogs I Have Known,” begs to differ. He’s convincing. In one mini-story
after another, the narrator describes dogs that have made an appearance in his
life, none truly vicious, yet Mozina manages to make even the nicest pup at
least a little unnerving with toothy potential.
The banker and the college professor meet over sandwich
wraps and keep on meeting into what warms and then sizzles into “My Nonsexual
Affair: A Tale of Strong and Unusual Feelings.” Lines are not exactly crossed
but toed and danced upon with increasing insistence, and Mozina manages his
signature effect on the reader once again.
Again: Mozina’s ability to make us see ourselves at our
nerdiest, geekiest, weakest, most vulnerable and so also most human. Even as we
wince and sigh, glad that’s not me …
we have to admit, some of it is. The silly human condition, the offbeat element
of truth that is stranger than fiction, unless it’s Mozina’s fiction.
Mozina is riding along on the Michigan Notable Book Tour
that began in April, reading with Michigan notable authors Patricia Clark,
Arnie Johnston, Ron Riekki and Phillip Sterling. With Quality Snacks officially
off the presses on May 1, the book launch
party will be held at The Museum of Contemporary Art in Detroit on May 21,
where Mozina will read with fellow Wayne State University Press authors Lisa
Lenzo, Lolita Hernandez, Diane Decillis, and Kalamazoo College favorite,
professor emeritus Conrad Hilberry.
It's the meal that leaves you licking your
fingers, Doritos dust and all.
Snack more at http://andymozina.com/.
WMUK Arts and More radio interview with Andy Mozina and
Zinta Aistars: http://cpa.ds.npr.org/wmuk/audio/2014/04/Andy_Mozina_Full.mp3