Hirshfield's "Alzheimer's " poem was actually the first of two poems published in slate, the second one being the bittersweet coda to the the former work's spare unraveling of expectations to aging and infirmity.
The poem, called "The Kind Man", picks up where the other poem ends, where the beautiful thing that was supposed to be forever--the memory of a great man, the beauty of the poem--slips into anonymity and becomes mere material for a younger generation to make use of. The survivor realizes that they don't want their lives becoming museums of those they can longer talk to , kiss, argue and have meals with. Small things become less mementos of glad times than they are stubbor pebbles in the shoe as one tries to move on.
The Kind Man
I sold my grandfather's watch,
its rosy gold and stippled pattern to be melted.
Movement unreparable.Lid missing.
Chain—there must have been one—missing.
Its numbers painted with
a single, expert bristle.
I touched the winding stem
before I passed it
over the counter.
The kind man took it,
what I'd brought him as if to the Stasi.
He weighed the honey of time.
This is what we settle for, taking a deep breath and walking over the briarpatched fear of letting go of things imbued with inordinate associations of love and loss, frustration and small wonders, and passing on the things that have family value, accepting the encroaching sense of betrayal, seeing, finally, the watch as only a thing with a minor market value as far as anyone else is concerned. Painful, yes, but this something must be done to make one's life, one's home their own. Any of us who've had to close a parent's house, or say a few words at a good friend's memorial knows the ritual. This is where the life we've given us achieves full autonomy: we are more fully ourselves, more alone than we've been before.