Posted by: thelionsface | June 15, 2009

Glyn Maxwell – Bad Window, a poem from The Lion’s Face

Writer Glyn Maxwell shares a “poem” from The Lion’s Face libretto

Glyn Maxwell speaking at an Alzheimer's Research Trust event

Research and anecdote agree that a not unusual effect of advanced dementia is for the sufferer to misinterpret his or her own image in a mirror. Some care homes remove mirrors from their walls for this reason. Mr D catches sight of his reflection in a window, because it is light inside and snowing outside. Urgently he seeks the word ‘hall’ and the word ‘window’. Because in his present state of mind he believes he is much younger – indeed, at this point, a schoolboy – he misidentifies the reflection as a stranger, a hostile old man. Of course then his own expressions start to haunt him: at first his perplexity and fury, then, as his fury blows over, he regains relative serenity. He relaxes because the ‘old man’ relaxes; the ‘old man’ relaxes because he relaxes. They lead each other through the emotions, close as dancers, close as refugees, through tempest into peace. The ‘schoolboy’ Mr D has shown kindness to this stranger.

This is I suppose a crystallisation, both awful and sublime, of the way our emotions tend to come back at us, reward our goodwill or redouble our malice. Perhaps the sufferer undergoes moments both heavenly and hellish in the ‘afterlife’ of advanced dementia – perhaps these are created, moulded, shaped, by deeds of the long past. When all – Knowledge, Kindred, Strength, Five Wits – have deserted Everyman in the great morality play, Good Deeds remains: ‘Fear not, I will speak for thee.’ We know little more of this ‘living afterlife’ than we do of the Christian one, and perhaps it’s only a hope, but what’s science without hope?


Mr D stops and sees his reflection in a dark window.


Excuse me
Excuse me in the world
Excuse me in the whole
In the hole in the hall
Excuse me in the hall
Is an old man in the hall
Is an old man who looks out
Is an old man in the square
In the square in the open square
The winter in the square the
The window in the window

Excuse me and he looks
He looks out of the window
An old man looking at me now
I don’t know who that is
Can you not say who that is
He is asking who I am
Who I am?
Tell him who I am
Tell him I am in my rights
Does he know
Does he know, he looks
Furious at me
He looks
Furious at me, he
He looks he doesn’t know
What I’m doing here he does not seem to
Want a schoolboy here!

Tell him who I am
For I am in my rights
He is breathing in
Breathing out
He is kinder than he was
He is kinder than the ladies
And all the different doctors
He is kinder it’s all right
He is nodding I am in my rights
I will walk away look look
He is walking away too
He is sorry for his actions
It’s illegal
He is sorry
I will reach out
Right out to say it’s all right
It’s all right
It’s all right
He is turning his face away
I have waved at him and seen him wave
He was sad about his actions
We have waved them all away
He is small
He is tiny
He has gone away

Calmed, Mr D wanders off.


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