We Still Had Scrabble

When we lost our way with words,
when I could no longer talk to my mother,
all utterances turned to confusion –
……….Now that you married your father…

We still had Scrabble.
Simple joy in adding a good word, working
the edge, reaching the dark blue square, or triple word score
……….…whose child are you?

Put back all exposed letters and reshuffle.
Seven tiles, seven letters per rack, clean slate,
it’s nobody’s fault. In rows across and up and down,
follow the rules and make it new.
……….How am I related to you?

Her knack, double word play, compound meanings:
adding quake to earth, tea to cup, free to bird.
Each new word must use a letter of a word
already on the board or add to one.

Co-existing with her dementia was Capgras, or Imposter, syndrome.
Sometimes if I’d let her win a game, she’d say,
……….the other Mary Ann is smarter.
Each person, even my dog, had a Doppelgänger, its double.

……….Where’s your dog? How many do you have now?
Just one Mom, the same one.
……….Where’s my dog? Don’t I have one?
No Mom, there’s just mine; she’s your grand-dog.
……….Yes that’s right! Your dog and my grand-dog, that’s two dogs.

Relationships multiplied; each day new
correspondences. She loved her plurality of players;
Did one of my husbands die? That other one
……….came during the night, one’s in charge oh
I don’t know who today. Their eyes are so blue!

For breakfast, pancakes became peacocks,
butter, water; stream of words clogged
by tangles and plaques —when I thought
I couldn’t talk to my mother,

Mom, do you want to get your nails done?
Do I want to get mailed?
We still had Scrabble, our card table,
our sanctuary, gathering place

for what would diminish.
The hand she drew was tough, but not for nothing.
I watched her eyes grow softer, apertures wider
open to the porosity of words, delight in the click

of tiles, everything in play, carried out to the letter.
Even stubborn consonants—one day, adding r-e-n-e-d
to “child:” Childrened, she spelled out,
counting each letter’s value, pleased with the sum.

My mother listened with gifts other than words.
So long ago now but still in my mind, she looks up from the board,
over rimless glasses, and asks brightly, expectantly,
……….Have you children’d?
……….Keep them.


Note on the poem: Capgras syndrome, named for Jean Marie Joseph Capgras, the French psychiatrist who first identified it, is commonly seen in people with neurodegenerative illnesses like Alzheimer’s disease and related dementia. Capgras syndrome is a delusional disorder characterized by the belief that a familiar person has been replaced by a visually similar imposter or replica. (

Author’s Bio

Mary Ann Mayer has three poetry collections, most recently, Kissing the Shuttle – A Lyric History, exploring the nexus between textile mills, “King Cotton,” and the tuberculosis epidemic. Her poetry appears in numerous literary publications. A Pushcart Prize nominee, she has received the GrubStreet “Blue Period” poetry award and May Sarton New Hampshire Book Award honourable mention, among others. She lives in Sharon, Massachusetts.