Wednesday, January 6, 2016

From Volume 36: A poem by James McKee


by James McKee

The home seemed pleasant from the street;
Two weeks of rest and therapy,
No more, should put you on your feet.
It didn't sound too bad to me.

Yours was a quiet floor, except
For a lounge where house rules allowed
One shared TV, which the staff kept
Always turned on and always loud.

To reach your bedside, I passed through
Fifty residents slumped in rows,
Unknown to me, although I knew
You would never be one of those.

In the Spotlight: James McKee

James McKee and his wife live in New York City, where they each work as educators. After studying English and Philosophy at the University of Virginia, he held a number of jobs before spending over a decade as a teacher and administrator at a small progressive high school in Manhattan. He currently works as a private tutor and spends his free time, when not writing or reading, traveling less than he would like and brooding more than he can help. His poem "Home" appears in Volume 36 of The Worcester Review.

Your poem "Home" describes a situation many people encounter, having a loved one move to a nursing home. What is your experience with this and how did it inspire you to create a poem about it?

When my mother became ill for what turned out to be the final time, I simply refused to acknowledge the gravity of her condition until the visit depicted in the poem, when at last I was forced to admit she was dying.  We were very close—I was her only son—and in recent years she had been hospitalized more than once, always returning home after a week or so.  This time was different, and I wanted the poem to present the speaker’s experience becoming irrecoverably aware of a loved one’s imminent death.  Once she knew that I had finally accepted, or at least understood, what was happening, there was very little time left; under the weight of what was soon to come, we were often unable to say very much to each other.  Somehow every trivial detail of the home, which was really not so bad as such places go even if my memories of it have a Grand Guignol savagery, exacerbated my grief at soon losing her.

A lot of people talk about the "sandwich generation" as being the generation of people that have to simultaneously care for their children and their parents. What's your take on that situation?

My wife and I don’t have children, and even though my mother continued to live on her own until her final illness, the strain of worrying about her all the time & checking up on her regularly took its toll on me (and on my wife).  On the one hand, I can only imagine how stressful raising children while caring for a declining parent might seem—yet I also think they would be, in their boisterous and uncomprehending way, a great comfort and source of strength, a distraction from grim clinical realities.

How did you first get into writing?

I have wanted to be a poet almost continuously since my teenage years, although it took me a long time to attain the discipline necessary to write in a sustained and artistically serious way.  Certain poems I read in high school, "Prufrock," "Dover Beach," "The Tiger," haunted me in a way that at the time I hardly understood, but that now I recognize as something like a summons.