Author: Paul R. Rao

I was recently appointed to the Board of the National Aphasia Association (NAA), which prompts me to share a rather unique experience surrounding the aura of “aphasia.”

On the day last spring when the NAA’s annual gala was held in New York City, my wife, Martina, and I took a train to New York and arrived around lunch time. We had time to kill before the gala so we ambled around Bryant Park, right behind the New York Public Library. In the middle of the park was a large white tent. Inside was a treasure trove of books. The Academy of American Poets was giving away free volumes of poetry in recognition of National Poetry Month.

Not being much of an aficionado of poetry, I selected the thinnest volume, The Long Meadow by Vijay Seshadri, as my book of poetry. I randomly opened the book to a poem. There, on page 26, was a poem entitled “Aphasia.” Martina and I looked at each other with incredulity and an eerie feeling that a “Broca” spirit was channeling me to that page. What are the odds that considering all of the many volumes of poetry under the big tent that there would be even one tiny poem on aphasia? Miraculously, hours before the gala to celebrate the victory of the human spirit in coping with aphasia, I was given a gift of poetry that so deftly captures the essence of fluent aphasia.

His signs flick off.
His names of birds
and his beautiful words—
eleemosynary, fir, cinerarium, reckless—
skip like pearls from a snapped necklace
scattering over linoleum.

His thinking won’t
venture out of his mouth.
His grammar heads south.
Pathetic his subjunctives; just as pathetic
his mangling the emphatic enclitic
he once was the master of.

Still, all in all, he has
his inner weather of pure meaning,
though the wind is keening
through his Alps and his clouds hang low
and the forecast is “Rain mixed with snow,
heavy at times.”

(Reprinted from The Long Meadow, Graywolf Press, 2004; this poem first appeared in The New Yorker.)

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