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“There is not a cure”: A podcast on Alzheimer’s and poetry

In this 1:2:1 podcast, host Paul Costello talks with Eugenia Zukerman, who is living with Alzheimer's disease and has a new book of poetry.

Three years ago, internationally renowned flutist Eugenia Zukerman was diagnosed with Alzheimer's Disease. Zukerman, the arts correspondent on CBS Sunday Morning for 25 years, told me in this 1:2:1 podcast that she came home from receiving the diagnosis in her physician's office and found herself writing, almost immediately.

What followed was a book of poetry, Like Falling Through a Cloud, that details her inner life as she confronts the neurological brain disease that will someday erase much of her memory. Here's an excerpt from the poem "You Don't Have To Tell Me":

I'm no dope
I see how my family notes
my lapses and losses of appropriate words
or a name or the date
and
it makes me fretful
to be forgetful
so I try to hide it but its out there
the lapse and losses
which escalate
slowly, absurdly, inevitably
and I know there is not a cure.

In our wide-ranging talk, Zukerman told me that she hasn't been feeling afraid, a common reaction, I'd imagine, to a diagnosis of this type.

She feels, she writes, like there are "marbles scrambling" in her head. I asked her to explain. "Marbles are beautiful and they make noise, they make music, I don't know why they came to me in such a strong way. But it seemed to me that what had been a very stable life was now pulling apart and rolling around like marbles."

In the forward to the book, her friend, cellist Yo-Yo Ma, writes:

In expressing the borders between fear, doubt, vulnerability and love, Genie reminds us of the delicate balance between human fragility and resilience, and how poetry and music offer a balm when faced with psychic turbulence.

Honest and poignant, brave and frightening, Like Falling Through a Cloud, is a lyrical memoir of one woman's bold confrontation with a dreaded disease.

Yet, despite the darkness of an Alzheimers diagnosis, impending and unfolding, our conversation made clear that Zukerman intends to embrace her life, to feel and love and reflect.

Photo by Angela Jimenez

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