The Parkinson Poems
by Jan Epton Seale



Lamar University Press, 2014. ISBN 978-0-985-08387-8.
Reviewed by Jazz Jaeschke
Posted on 03/31/2014

Poetry; Nonfiction: Life Lessons

With her latest book, Jan Epton Seale has wrapped a treasure in a trim package of poems—a model for coping with the impact of steady decline. She has given us a love story. This is the story of Jan Seale and her husband Carl, caught in a triangle with Parkinson's disease shaping their lives over 20 years. Hard to put down, you will wish for more when you reach the closing poem.

"The trouble with a chronic disease
is that it is ... so ... well ... chronic."

Seale opens the book with an eight-part progression of the uninvited guest—arriving, settling in, and ultimately assuming alpha position. That stark reality is fleshed out with views of the guest's interference and demands, illustrating the predictable peculiarities of Parkinson's while pulling you into two lives forever changed. Smiles and faces that cannot smile, curiosities are tangled together in poems that speak directly to difficulties hard to put into words. Vivid color images scattered throughout contribute to understanding, yet stimulate a yearning to know more.

Brace yourself to meet preying monsters in the form of ordinary thresholds turned threatening, night sweats like rainforests, cement "shoes" that hobble the brain (and feet), silence stalking between outbursts.

"The silence is all
that can be managed"

But you will also encounter a bright-side perspective, blessings, savoring power in small things like flashlights.

Although specific to Parkinson's characteristic impacts on mind and body, these poems are for anyone who has handed over independence to a chronic disease—as either the afflicted, or the caregiver companion. Universal themes of sacrifice and transformation stand up gracefully to greet you. Seale's poems are readily understood, with no poetic conditioning needed.

"We'd rather our grandchildren did not look on
with polite puzzled eyes"

I was once such a grandchild, at Nanny's kitchen table, focusing on shaking hands lifting a spoon up toward her mouth—not making it; starting again. Maybe you, too, have witnessed Parkinson's up close. Regardless, you will be touched by this sweep of challenges and responses to a too-prevalent haunt for those of us lucky enough to be getting older. This is truly a book for all of us. If not Parkinson's, we will face other flavors of declining body control and changing mental processes. Seale gives us a shot of courage to face what comes.

"'Goodnight,' I say, and hang there an instant
while we send each other the same message:
Be there in the morning."

My recommendation regarding this book? Read it. Keep it for the morning.


Jan Epton Seale was Texas Poet Laureate in 2012. She is the author of nine volumes of poetry, two books of short fiction, three volumes of nonfiction, and nine children's books. Her work is published nationally in such venues as The Yale Review, Texas Monthly, and Newsday. Poems included in The Parkinson Poems appeared also in Concho River Review and Langdon Review of the Arts in Texas 2012-13. She is the recipient of a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship in Creative Writing. She teaches workshops nationally for writing groups and learning centers. Jan and her husband Carl live in the Rio Grande Valley of Texas. Visit her website.

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