“Identity” by Mollie Spirn

my grandmother and I at a wedding in the late seventiesI was just doing some cleaning and found this poem by my grandmother. It is in the newsletter for the San Francisco Jewish Home for the Aged, where she spent the last decade of her life.

The poem’s by-line reads, “By Mollie Spirn, wife of resident Harold Spirn,” which means she wasn’t yet a resident of the nursing home. When my grandfather was very sick with congestive heart failure, he lived in the Jewish home. My grandmother would take a long bus ride every day to visit him, from her apartment in the outer Sunset to the Excelsior district. Finally, with all that running around, she fell and broke her leg. She decided to move into the home herself, first as a temporary resident, then permanently. She loved the Jewish Home and really blossomed there, without a household to take care of. She joined a book club, took art and exercise classes, and, most significantly for her, began writing poetry. At first, her poetry was a once-in-a-while effort, but her poems became so popular in the newsletter that she was given a regular column. 

This poem may have been about my grandfather, losing his cognitive capacities due to the late stage of his illness (he did not live long after entering the Jewish home).  I don’t remember if he had the problems described in the poem, but it doesn’t seem impossible, since he was so ill. But I’m guessing it might be a reflection of the other people she met and saw in the home when she visited. It is a sad poem, and prescient since my grandmother became senile about five years before her death. I don’t know if she foresaw her own loss of memory and cognitive function or if she was just thinking about others. Either way, it was really startling to find this poem and to think about my grandmother and how much I miss her. 

by Mollie Spirn

My name is my name
What is my name
I forgot my name
Isn’t it a shame
There is no one to blame
What should I do? 

I live in a place
Where everyone seems to know me
How come they know
And I do not
I don’t recognize my clothes
I don’t recognize my shoes
My memory is failing 
And I have the blues

Give me a break
Some pills to take
And make me whole again

Here is someone coming by
Who seems like I know
I’ll ask him
Are you my son?