Sundowning at the Dementia Unit

Phyllis thanks the nurse for coming. Carlton fired a nurse
yesterday after he pitched headfirst to the floor.
Today he says we must be ready to serve drinks
as soon as the guests arrive. Ann just counts aloud
and rocks in her chair, though yesterday
she sang a song to my dog and told him of her girlhood
in Norfolk. Cal has not yelled God damn! yet tonight,
but is pacing the halls as if looking for the proper time.
John shoves a wastebasket into the guinea pig's cage.
At dusk the whole ward is in motley motion,
even my calm, cooperative father who in mid-sentence
shuffles to the door of his room to study the hall
in both directions. "The two opposing factions
have reconciled," he reports, and I say this is good new.
When I ask what he saw in the corridor he looks pained
and stammers "I'm trying to get my thoughts together."
Then, as afterthought or aside, "they're getting ready
to ship the cows out of town." About time, I say,
as the counselor taught me. This is called validating.
He does not respond, but begins packing again
and asks me what time we will leave. I say
let's decide that tomorrow, and this is called deflecting.
I never know when he'll call me on it. Tonight,
blessedly, he just looks a little anxious and shakes
a pillow from its case, folds and refolds a shirt.

I don't know how to love this man who looks at me
vaguely as an infant, who takes my hand and lets me
lead him to the bathroom as a father will lead a son.
What's the best way, he asks finally, to drive there from here?