Archive for December, 2009


     we stripped tiny lights
repacked fragile balls and velvet bows

his right arm hanging limp
     his left hand grasping at the trunk
we pulled

through aphasia’s disarray    we
   loaded one dry balsam
hauled it to the mall

in that frozen season    exposed
   few others came    to gain
exchange one life for another 
    from the volunteer
who cleared her pile    gave us
    ten root-thick    dirt-bare sticks

 to plant
     in our hard yard
where we watered   waited
ceaseless    the audaciousness
 of this labor

yet today
birdsong lives
in ten leaf-full maples
lifting limbs into blue silence


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Tick Tock

Tick Tock

A new year waits

around the striking

of the old brass clock



brick faced hearth

back there

in that other life

before youth

exchanged those days

for all this gold.

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More than a list of nouns
Language transfers meaning
From one heart to another,
Informing, questioning, 

Last week
At our four-party dinner table
Our friend said, “We ate
At the best Thai restaurant
At Main and Greene.”

“I know the spot! Next door
Is a barbecue shack
I can’t name…
Sometimes our daughter
Rhonda meets us there.”

Then he uttered
His single words,
Added gestures.


When he tries to speak
I no longer want to guess.
Thirty-four years since that stroke,
Yet again, I am trying to
Fit together the puzzle
Of his thought.

Aha, I’ve got it! Sticky Fingers,
The barbecue place in Charleston
Where we ate three years ago
With our other daughter Holly,
Her husband Jim.

I say, “Sticky Fingers”.
He pushes his notepad toward me.
I write “Sticky Fingers,”
He smiles.

In his aphasia group
On Monday, he may say:

Then press his fingers together,
Hold as if they will not come apart,
Hoping they will say Sticky Fingers…
Maybe not.

For one small second
I imagined
He would tell our friends tonight
About another time and place

When he and I shared a table
Candlelight and music witnessing
Our soft voices and bright eyes
Focused solely on each other.

Tonight he pockets pad and pen
Then scans the room,
Flashing his cheery smile
To all who look his way.
I feel alone.

He lifts his glass,
Sips tonight’s sweet tea.
I paint a smile across my face
Straining to remember
To be grateful
For our efforts.

Published in Stroke Connect Magainxe of The American Heart Association March/April 2008

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Aphasia – a’fazh(e)a  n – the loss or impairment of the power to use words as symbols of ideas that results from a brain lesion –Merriam-Webster

Partners in the Aftermath of Aphasia                                                               By Jane Penland Hoover

We had just celebrated my husband Ron’s 34th birthday, our seventh wedding anniversary and the good news that we were to have a second child, when we learned that Ron’s aortic heart valve, damaged in childhood by rheumatic fever,was failing. “We must schedule surgery right away,” said Dr. Logue, his doctor. In 1973 a new open-heart procedure made it possible to replace a weakened valve with an artificial one.  Then three months after the surgery had returned Ron’s heart to its normal size, he suffered a massive stroke. The doctors, who hoped to avoid putting such a young man on anticoagulants and a lifetime of complicated blood testing, had to do so.

After the stroke our doctor’s evaluations regarding Ron’s recover were distinguished only by degrees of hopelessness. Some expected Ron to have another stroke. One even told me Ron would likely die. The speech therapist said that with expressive aphasia Ron might learn to copy spoken and written material, but would not speak normally again. The physical therapist thought Ron would though he would not regain the use of his right arm. All assured us that any changes would be slow.

 “Medically there is nothing more we can do,” said Dr. Logue as he walked with me the length of hospital corridor one afternoon. Like Ron’s, the doctor’s eyes held bewilderment, pain, and kindness.  Seeing his compassion strengthened my resolve for Ron to live, work, raise his children, talk again, and enjoy his life.

The speech therapist taught me how to encourage Ron’s speaking by showing him word and picture cards and letting him try to say what he saw. “Point to the window and ask him to name what you are pointing at,” she instructed.  “Anything in the room — get him to name everything.”   As she talked with me, Ron’s gaze followed us; frequently he flashed us a cheery smile. Seeing she expected this to work, I felt encouraged. 

For Ron speaking was grueling work and uttering a specific word impossible. Gradually I learned to resist my urge to hurry. Ron shelved his anger and distress and managed to offer up patience. We settled into an awkward routine of pointing and naming.  When I pointed to the window he would say door. When I pointed to a comb he said hair or do it. We grimaced and giggled at near misses.  It was and six months before Ron said “jane”. The staccato delivery so alarmed me that I didn’t recognize my name in the sound of his voice.

After our efforts produced almost no useable language, fear, anger, and a silent sadness took up residence in the space between us.  We moved along like flat tires. Shuttering and fretting, we continued to bump into each other whenever he tried to tell me something, and I tried to guess his meaning with his one-word clues.

On a crisp fall day eight months after Ron’s stroke, we waved to our first daughter Holly as she and her friends walked away from our house toward first grade. I located childcare for our new baby girl Rhonda and began searching for a job. Ron and I had worked together as auditors before we married so I imagined I could design arecovery plan. When offered an accounting job with a newly built senior housing facility, Inegotiated for a second desk and permission to bring Ron with me to work.

As I wrote the management plan, I developed a record keeping system Ron might understand. Slowly he learned to copy with his left hand. He prepared bank deposits and recording rent payments. To further his interactions and accounting skills, we started a newspaper route in the building. Pushing a two-tiered grocery cart my father had commandeered for him, Ron and our two girls delivered over a hundred papers seven days a week for five years.  By then Ron was using a few words, calculating the payrolls, preparing monthly financial statements and insisting on driving his car again.

 After two sessions the driving instructor told me, “Mr. Hoover is an excellent driver, likely better than you.”  R winked my way and began driving himself to speech therapy, work, and back home – early enough to arrive before Holly returned from school in the afternoon.

  By the time we retired 24 years later, Ron was entering the accounting data into a computer, reconciling 14 bank statements and producing the financial repots for the two facilites our corporation now owned. Although it me an entire year to teach him, neither of us ever regretted the time we gave to the endeavor.

 Because our need for language, story and thought did not lessen after Ron’s stroke and aphasia, we each turned inward.  Today he reads, and works 1000-piece jigsaw puzzles; I write.  Sometimes he reads what I write, nodding his understanding.  Each night we enjoy dinner with friends in our retirement community’s dinning room.  Other times we treat ourselves to movies and popcorn. Our daughters and their four (soon to be five) children visit us and invite us to their homes.  We eat and swim and go for long walks. The youngest granddaughter, Olivia, climbs up on Ron’s lap and says “Opa, read to me.” Ron points to the pictures and she calls out, “Chicken… cow…pigs.” Turning the pages, they both make farm animal noises and laugh. She says, “Do it again, do it again.”

Living with limited language is more challenge than either of us would have chosen. I often find it difficult to articulate the confusing emotions of emptiness, pain, and sometimes joy that success and failure deliver to us each day. However, we are gentler and less angry than we have been.  Ron continues to support me with the grace of patience and bright smiles.  Silence is more often sanctuary than isolation now.  Our life is not easy, nor is it hard.  It is as it is.


We have lived thirty-four years since the night of stroke,ten since we retired. Despite that length of time, I can still be startled as was recently when Ron called, “Jane!”   I rushed to the sharp sound of his voice, relieved to find him standing at our lake-view window. As I stepped into the circle of his strong left arm, he whispered, “ahw – Ducks – ugh – ducks,” gesturing toward the geese flocked beneath our bird feeder.  He straightened, stood taller.  He was the one pointing now, pointing beyond the window, and calling me to enjoy the moment.

Published in Stroke Connect Magazine March/April 2008

American Heart Association

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 together we stripped
     tiny lights
repacked fragile balls and velvet bows

his right arm hanging limp
     his left hand grasping at the trunk
we pulled

through aphasia’s disarray    we
   loaded one dry balsam
hauled it to the mall

in that frozen season    exposed
   few others came    to
exchange one tree for another 
    from the volunteer
who cleared her pile    gave us
    ten root-thick    dirt-bare sticks

 to plant
     in our hard yard
where we watered   waited
wondered   at the audacity
of this labor

birdsong lives
in ten leaf-full maples
lifting limbs into blue silence

Read Full Post »


green tree blinks soft life
family gathered round    hugs mugs
sip steam    spiced cider

years remembered whirl     blur in
shimmered laughter

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We watched eighteen wheels
rolling up the long curved
rise, our drive, trees we planted,
watered, arching over now,
shadows falling thick,
dense thought of sighs.

What remained of our possessions
on the move toward home,
distant from our sheltered cove,
inviting grasses where Holsteins
grazed, unfazed and unaware
of goodbyes whispered
to all of them:
the lone great blue
beavers in their den
turtles sunning on the shore
once ours.

Our hands clasped, we pressed
for comfort from the pain,
then released our grasp
to go.

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