Love in a Time of Lament poems by Rennie McQuilkin

picture of Sara and Rennie McQuilkin
Photo by Eleanor McQuilkin Burns.  

Rennie McQuilkin’s new collection entitled Love in a Time of Lament is focused on the Alzheimer’s battle and eventual demise of his belovèd wife. His poems reveal that the farther away dementia takes her, the closer his bond with her becomes. Along with new poems, the work in this volume has been selected from two of McQuilkin’s earlier books, The Rounding and The Holding. About the latter, Margaret Gibson (CT Poet Laureate Emerita) has written, “In this tender and ravishingly honest book of poems, with his wife’s Alzheimer’s at its heart, Rennie McQuilkin has given us a chronicle of late life as it daily unfolds toward its inevitable finality. These poems tell us that memory magnifies who we are, just as forgetting erases the linkages we have to others and to sense of self.  Leave-takings and loss abound in these poems, but so also does affirmation and celebration of connection. The more his belovèd wife forgets, the more this poet holds her close. Bravo! I say, and bow in gratitude.”


  Enamelwork by Yvonne Gaudriot

Married to her poet husband for over sixty years, Sarah McQuilkin lived a full and various life before dying from complications of Alzheimer’s. Teacher, counselor, gardener, gourmet cook, and mother of three wonderful children, she was also a superb artist whose work has been widely exhibited.  Below is a sample:

Rennie McQuilkin was Poet Laureate of Connecticut from 2015 to 2018. His work has appeared in The Atlantic, Poetry, The Southern Review, The Yale Review, The Hudson Review, The American Scholar, and elsewhere. This is his twenty-first poetry collection.  He has received a number of awards for his work, including a fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts and six fellowships from the Connecticut Commission on the Arts, as well as a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Connecticut Center for the Book. In 2010 his volume of new and selected poems, The Weathering, was awarded the Center’s annual poetry prize under the aegis of the Library of Congress; and in 2018, North of Eden received the Next Generation Indie Book Award in Poetry.  For nine years he directed the Sunken Garden Poetry Festival, which he co-founded at Hill-Stead Museum in Farmington, CT.  In 2018, he and his wife of sixty-two years – artist, teacher, counselor, and gardener Sarah McQuilkin – moved to the Seabury retirement community in Bloomfield, CT.  They are the parents of three wonderful children.  Unhappily, Sarah passed away in January, 2023.

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ISBN 979-8-9865522-7-9
First edition, 2023
82 pages

Copies of this book can be ordered
from all bookstores including Amazon
 or directly from the author:
 Rennie McQuilkin
400 Seabury Dr., #5196
Bloomfield, CT 06002.
Send $16 per book
plus $4 shipping
by check payable
 to Robert Rennie McQuilkin.
The author can be contacted at and 860-519-1804


copyright © 2023 by Rennie McQuilkin


The Terror
for Sarah


At three a.m. she wakes me, crying out
in a voice so deep and stricken I barely know it:
“We’re losing someone, losing!”  As if drowning,

she gasps for air, bruises me painfully, clutching
so hard I might be a spar floating mid-ocean. 
Telling her she has had a bad dream will not do.

She holds harder, cries
“Don’t leave me, don’t go!”  I say no, I will stay,
try to help if she will say who we are losing.
“Don’t you know?  How could you not?”

She stares at something fearful.  
At length she begins to breathe more slowly, deeply,
and falls asleep, her mild breathing like the lapping
of ocean waters quelled on a quiet shore . . .

In the morning she has no memory
of her night terror.  We have coffee, chat amicably.
I read aloud to her, as always.  But I am undone.
All day I have been redoubling gifts of love for her.


The Touching

She’s touched your perfect body with
her mind. 
“Suzanne,” Leonard Cohen


After being savaged by surgery
I didn’t want anyone seeing my
body’s ruin, not even you, my dear.

But you wanted otherwise, wiser
despite your forgetfulness.  Deeper
than logic, you wanted us as before.

You said you’d only take a shower
if we went under the water together.
There, both of us naked as newborns,

you touched my imperfect body with
your impaired mind and loving hands,
touched me all over, making me shine.


for Sarah

Clair de Lune


Your hands shake, seeming to seek
what’s lost . . .  But no, this is not the palsy
that accompanies dementia, undoing me,
but in tune with Debussy
who fills the room, moving from your hands
to your whole conducting self.  Your lips
tremble an iteration of the harmony;
your feet two-step.
How a darkened mind is enlightened by music!

Good Morning


Midmorning she stays wrapped in blankets.
“I’m scared,” she says.  I stroke her hair.
We talk about what frightens her.
She doesn’t know where she is or how she got here.
We reconstruct and she stirs, though unconvinced.

She emerges from her tight wrapping,
widens her eyes, looks at what she tries to know.
When I say who I am, she shakes her head,
but blinks, perhaps hoping to renew
our acquaintance.

“Good morning, my love.”
“Good morning,” she whispers uncertainly
and moves closer, lifts her pajama sleeves
like brilliant wings.




The day it was final – you’d have to go
to The Meadows for memory support,
I gave blood, and on my way home,
I lost my wallet, that proof I existed.

I can bear the loss of my outer self
like Osiris, whose dismembered parts
were slowly collected and puzzled together.
Little by little, my credit cards, license, etc.
have been replaced, all but the photos,

which kept you with me, my love – you
at three, pigtailed, wide-smiling; you waving
from South Beach; you remaking the world
at your easel . . .
so much of you gone with my wallet –
and you yourself no longer with me.
Like Osiris, whose most vital part could not
be found, though outwardly he seemed intact,
I must spend my days in the underworld,
from which I’ll be given only temporary release.



with thanks to Bob Cording


Where she lies on a gurney in Emergency
I read her a poem about lifting a small
plastic Spiderman from a ditch,

raising its arms to the sky as if calling
down a blessing.  Suddenly her shut eyes
snap open,

and from the dark cave of her mouth
a strangely joyful noise.
She stares at cloud-white ceiling tiles.

Taking Her In


I treasure whatever Sarah wore most recently,
and closest to herself – slippers, socks, undershirts,
pajamas, beanies – the more unwashed the better.
I bury my face in the scent of her, wear whatever
of hers I can.  I throw her prayer shawl over my head,
wrap her ams around me.  I take her in.



Just three months ago we went on your first
outing since being immured in Memory Care.
The entry to Podiatry was dark, elevator kaput,

and we resorted to stairs like Everest climbers,
clumping, gripping the railing, but arrived
at a sort of heavenly office, brightly lit . . .

There, prone without you today, looking down
on my bent and corned club toes
and grayly elephantine feet, I close my eyes,

am transported to you beside me back then,
being trimmed, your long, elegant feet
in the pink.  After the clipping,

I suggested that we go out for tea and pastries. 
The elevator worked and we found our way
to a Millennials’ café . . .   Today,

I almost fall getting to the car.  But I reach
our café, engage in one-way remembering,
am transported to Portugal, just wed,

savoring espresso and pastel de nata together,
not believing our good fortune
and you creating a sensation wherever we go.

Potter’s Wheel, First Day of Spring


Good morning, my dearest.  You’re still
with me today – nine spoonfuls’ worth
of ash in the clay turkey pot you built.
Our son cradled the rest gently, carried it

to the river bend where fifty years ago
you spread a checkered tablecloth at noon
and we saw how far we could skip stones.
There, he and your kin scattered palmfuls

over the water, your white ash sailing out
like winnowed wheat or a spreading net, 
drifting down and circling in the current
on your way to the Sea.  Still, bits of bone

glitter like mica in wet clay by the river’s eddy,
perfect medium.  I see you once more working
the clay, fading into God at His potter’s wheel.
What to make of you?  A dove, an owl, a breeze . . .

Wind in the Chimney

(Easter, 2023)


His chimney pots sing in a swirl of breeze
like your swirl in the river where he freed
your ash, my belovèd,
and saw its lightest chaff curl into the sky.

Our son wonders at the chiming
from his chimney, then slowly knows: the tone
is a whetted fingertip’s circling a wineglass rim,
rising from a low hum to the highest pitch

you performed to celebrate family gatherings.
He blesses an urge toward words in this music
of wind against the rims of his pots: a slurred,
incipient “I love you,” words you whispered

when you ended, all of us by the bed inheriting
words never to be lost, circling above us forever.

Snowy Owl


I look up, see you at home on the risers
of your new choir,
top row, taller than the others, a nimbus
of startling white hair framing high-boned
Nordic features and azure eyes,
voice a part of the whole yet purely itself.

I am reminded of Snowy Owls
you and I encountered – in Mont-Dore
on the Massif, and later on the wild shore
of Lake Ontario.  The first, mid-road, stood

her ground; the second gradually rose
on deliberate legs, another hunting ground
in mind, and flew in a white blur.  So it is with
you, my belovèd, risen to your own far world
but near, near, always in the haven of my heart.