It’s like a two-way street, the hospital speech
therapist explains, drawing lanes with arrows

and curves. Information swerves in through the ears;
replies arrive in the mouth. The brain is the driver.

“Okay okay okay,” Mother answers without delay
when asked about the food, her health, this task.

This “automatic response,” a kind of static, relieves
the silence she emotes like a high-frequency note

of distress. “Brush your … ?” “Suitcase,” she rushes to fill
in the blank, shaking her head as you would to free the ink

in a ballpoint pen. “Tie your … ?” Mother’s eyes roll.
“Suitcase?” she pleads. At the root of “perseveration,” the name

for this odd repeating of words, is the word “persevere,”
that hopeful bird which sits on my chest with its head

snaked under a wing and its talons digging in as she shakes
more and more suitcases loose from her mind. One shines

on her finger, one barks like a dog. O singer with your one-word
song, you knew I was there but not for how long, so all

day you conjured up luggage, all day you lured my bags
from the thicket of thought and picked at the locks of my visit.

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