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Sandra Miller

My left hand is an idiot.
I don't think it can save me.

Deep in my brain, the old twine of brittle DNA,
the sparks of my memory and blasted circuits,
fizz and fray.
The spiral staircase twists, leading nowhere.

They say learn something new
so I rouse the dormant piano and try to
find the stretch, learn the reach
but my left hand bangs out sour notes and
my right hand, my anchor, derails in dismay.

She haunts me, she follows me, she plucks at my sleeve ...
I won't turn and look 
at her chickadee eyes and empty-gourd head,
fumbling at spoons, hair gone askew.
I grasp my loose button, twirling on one thread,
wobbly and worthless.
It's nearly gone.

Over and over I drill the arpeggio but
my left hand is an idiot.
I don't think it can save me.

She's coming.


About the poet:

Sandra Miller has been a faculty member at Banner Good Samaritan Family Medicine Residency for nearly twenty-five years and is a clinical assistant professor at the University of Arizona College of Medicine. "My college major was creative writing; I encourage all physicians to journal and explore their personal relationship with medicine through writing. One of my favorite past projects has been encouraging interns to write an 'Ode to My Pager.' "

About the poem:

"This is a compilation of many encounters with Alzheimer's patients. Because this dementia runs strongly on both sides of my family, the worry of developing it always runs through me. This poem is a mix of attempting to forestall it and of giving in to possible dark reality; it is a bit of a fight story and a horror story rolled together. Contemplating such a disease does not necessarily have a happy ending, even though we would like it to."

Poetry editors:

Judy Schaefer and Johanna Shapiro