Alzheimer’s pantoum by Alex Chertok

“O sweetness of eternity, may my heart grow to love thee”
Prayers for Fellow-Prisoners

To repeat a word is to flush its cheeks, yes,
but also to taste the sweetness of eternity.
May I grow to love my father’s starving heart.
Eight times saying my name on one call is him

rehearsing for eternity.
He writes me down, then I’m out of his hands.
Sweetheart, my love, just
one more time.

He writes, and it’s written in another hand,
placed among post-its of lost passwords and
the laceworked moss of days. May
bleeds into June in a grown man’s heart.

My name is a body
he’s found slumped against a tree
whose heart in its breakthrough of blood
murmurs of eternity through the bullet hole.

He keeps reliving me, the light off the linden tree,
the not enough towels to stop
eternity with, too many bullet holes to count,
this body dying without a name.

Bloodclouds. Towels like a desert in the linen closet.
Replaying my name will not
undo the body’s dying.
Dad, poor ancient. Broken record must be

sweet mnemonic. Sweetheart, just
eternity more times, so I give my name
again, and my heart breaks with an ancient sound.
He loves me, so he keeps

giving me away.
The dying body against the tree is his. His heart
a colander for names, repeating blood,
no words left, his cheeks laceworked by leaves.

Alex Chertok has poems published or forthcoming in The Kenyon Review Online, The Missouri Review, The Massachusetts Review, The Cincinnati Review, Copper Nickel, and Best New Poets 2016, among others, and essays on his prison teaching published in Ploughshares and forthcoming from Alaska Quarterly Review. He was runner-up in the North American Review’s 2019, and finalist in the 2021, James Hearst Poetry Prize, as well as finalist in the 2020 Third Coast Poetry Contest. He currently teaches at Ithaca College and through the Cornell Prison Education Program.