How to Behave with the Very Old
by Elizabeth Dunford

Yes, of course, enunciate clearly,
turn up the volume if required, but please,
do not address me as if I were an infant.
I may share childish accoutrements —
bibs, sippy cups, nappies, push-along walkers —
but I have lived a lot longer, witnessed far more
than you.

I’ve seen you eyeing up my bookshelves,
sneaking in bin-bags. Yes, I do want to keep
that shoebox of postcards.
Don’t dump the poster paint portraits,
fridge magnets from Filey,
leather bible awarded to my grandmother
for faultless attendance at Sunday School.
At least have the decency to wait
until I’ve gone.

Don’t switch on the telly without consulting me.
I’m fed up with inane sofa-chatter,
gameshow hosts who grin with gleaming teeth.
And you can stop wittering on
about the weather and the traffic on the ring road
and the lovely poinsettia on my windowsill.

Words, words, words.
Sometimes, I yearn for quiet.

PAINTING: Then the old woman mounted on the Ifrit’s back by Marc Chagall (1948).

NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR: This was written during a year when I spent a lot of time visiting a care home, where my 91-year-old father was staying. During that period, I was able to observe the frustrations of elderly people who know they are losing their faculties, but cannot bear to be patronised. There were also amusing moments when my father, who had always been a most discreet, polite and gracious individual, lost his “filter” due to his increasing dementia, and said aloud what he really thought! Writing poems, for me, was a way of coping with the sadness of that time.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Elizabeth Dunford won second place in the 2017 Carers UK poetry competition, and was recently published in Snakeskin. Her articles and book reviews have been published in Lapidus Journal and in NAWE’s Writing in Education. She is active in the poetry community and facilitates the Pen and Paper group at Bromley House Library as well as writing workshops with Lapidus and Nottingham Writers Studio. She enjoys performing in open mike poetry sessions — recently, of course, on Zoom. Elizabeth is interested in the relationship between writing and well-being and holds an MSc in Creative Writing for Therapeutic Purposes from the Metanoia Institute. She was born in India, grew up in Ulster, and has lived in Nottingham, England, for over 30 years.