Hello, Stranger Poems

Graham Rae

25 September 2021

Graham Rae is not your conventional writer, and his angles of attack on life are not the familiar ones. I first came across him when he was brilliantly researching the man behind the ‘Beat’ Scottish magazine Jabberwock and his literary interests have always been unconventional, edgy and underground, extending to music, film and alternative culture. He first got published in 1988 as a teenager, in an American underground horror film magazine. Since then he has followed a completely unique path. His writing is extensive, his reading and expertise wide, and his interests…catholic. We sometimes get caught up in the conventions of writing and being published. Graham doesn’t.

In this part commentary, part poem, Graham talks about the effects of dementia. When your mind can become a stranger to your loved ones, to yourself.


I have worked as a carer on both sides of the Atlantic, both in nursing homes and out in the community. I have seen and heard a great many painful and poignant and incredible things, as any carer would be able to tell you. The piece I am going to read was written after I worked in a Falkirk nursing home which no longer exists.

In the place were a great many elderly people with varying degrees of dementia, and they would sometimes say mad, funny, surreal, brilliant, unexpected things. As anybody who has talked a dementia sufferer will know, they can often sound linear and convincing when being anything but. At other times it is very clear that they are not making sense. And occasionally they will have piercing brainfog-shifting moments of cerebral clarity, having a perfectly rational conversation with you. So any dealings you have with a poor person with this ailment is built on ever-shifting sands, but underneath it all there is still a stricken human being trying to make sense of the world.

I wrote down interesting-sounding things that several of the nursing home residents said. Not in any mean or mocking sense, but because what they came up with sometimes sounded fascinating to me, like its own sort of random surrealist poetry. I wanted to honour those people whom I met during the time I worked with them, and whose names you will not hear in this text. So I present to you here a selection of odd, haunting, garbled things that they said. Their utterances are presented in the form of a non-linear, non-rational conversation between two people, to give you a flavour of what it can be like to talk to somebody with dementia. Any tragically suffering friend and family member of a dementia sufferer can unfortunately tell you what that’s like.

Some of what the sufferers of this horribly cruel disease say in the piece can be heard to have roots in well-known sayings or poetry or whatever. But ultimately it can be regarded as a neurodegenerative chorus of confused realities, a symphony composed of verbal curveballs from sporadically-flickering-neuron-and-synapse, dementia-damaged brains. But above all it’s a tribute to the ailing, failing people whom I met during one of the most depressing, poignant, grim, scary, thought-provoking, beautiful periods of my life. I can still picture some of the faces as the poor gone people speak:

“I’m lucitating.”

“Show her how the new race is started.”

“Throw them well up from your fire.”

“Cold blows the breezes through the treeses and makes you sneezes.”

“I’ve got everything but nothing like that.”

“I get a row every week at the stadium.”

“I’m scared of jerseys.”

“We had awfy good fleets on the walls but no so much now.”

“See me, I’m on the boil all the time.”

“For the racecourse…reception….”

“I was killing something and killing myself.”

“I hope to see a dog or a cat getting burned John.”

“Cut my throat and hope to die.”

“The worst thing was when ah lost that boy’s teeth…ye ken the two bits at the side…a swan stole in and lifted them…and ah’d never seen it afore.”

“That’s what it is – it’s a pudding of the mighty coloured race.”

“Mister Bear…are you there…where…where will I go…”

Graham Blogs here: