Dying Poets Society

Is there beauty in Alzheimerís disease? Yes, say ASU poets who work with dementia patients. But can you be a poet and not know it?

And the bugs haven't even come out yet. Smith knows that trying to teach a group of 80- and 90-year-old ladies (Horace is the only man) about spiders and flies could be tricky, but she eases them in with a mix of science and fantasy. Smith's sessions -- which have included lessons about the solar system, dinosaurs and jungles -- are fast-paced and full of facts, but she does that, she says, only to stimulate the patients' senses. Her students are never asked to repeat facts, only asked what they think about the sun, or what a dinosaur reminds them of.

Smith lays a pile of oversize cutouts of cartoon bugs on the table -- a butterfly, a spider, a glow worm. The bugs are bright-colored and goofy. The students giggle; a couple pick up the bugs and look at them. Others look blankly at Smith.

Next comes a book from the Discovery Store, with intricate drawings of bug parts. Smith slowly turns the pages, holding the book up so everyone can see.

Initially, ASU poet Argie Manolis asked herself, "Are we going to be taking their words?"
Paolo Vescia
Initially, ASU poet Argie Manolis asked herself, "Are we going to be taking their words?"

She puts it down and asks a question: "What if bugs had wheels?"

Dolores laughs. "We'd have to have oil cans out all the time."

Smith pulls out matchbox-size toy bugs -- a spider and a fly -- on wheels. She puts them down on the table, demonstrates how they move.

"Can I jump up on him?" Marge asks.

The bugs tilt precariously, and it's hard to push one without knocking it over. Gloria is finally persuaded to try, and when she succeeds, she raises her fists in victory.

"I wanted everyone to love bugs today," Smith says.

"They're beautiful," Gloria says with a sigh.

An attendant comes in with fruit cocktail cups, signaling that time is short.

"Anybody come in here, they'd sure wonder what we're doing," Doris says.

Smith passes around sheets with the songs "Polly Wolly Doodle" and "Glow Little Glow Worm" in oversize type, and Marge leads the group with a steady finger.

At the end of the session, Smith thanks each person individually, by name, and tells them they can take a cutout bug back to their room. She hands Marge the glow worm, telling her, "It looks like you. It's so happy."

Marge laughs and laughs. She laughs so hard that, swept up in the moment, she whips her false teeth from her mouth and waves them around joyfully.

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