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Poetry and Medicine
July 8, 1998

The Hands of the Old Métis

Author Affiliations

Edited by Charlene Breedlove, Associate Editor.

JAMA. 1998;280(2):128E. doi:10.1001/jama.280.2.128

for my father-in-law, Don Jennerjohn

One hand's arthritic and chained to the pendulum
of a grandfather clock.
It shakes a glass of orange juice to the trembling lips
when his blood sugar falls down the stairs.
Or it takes these eight pills without water
and squeezes two puffs from the new inhaler.
The other
the free hand with purple bruises and dirty fingernails
strums a blond guitar in the dark front room
or sharpens his pocket knife to the drum of thunder
or cradles two brown ferrets and a white one.
This hand works in the basement making a small log cabin
out of wood and tools and nails and glue.
It places bottlecaps of water and mealworms
at the bottom of the empty aquarium
where the orphaned bats nest.
It turns the attic globe to Canada out of boredom
or pours another cup of coffee
or weaves through the perfect ringlets of his new grandson.
The free hand of the retired electrical worker
rests solid as stone on the black remote
and falls asleep
in the brown and orange light of the Texas rodeo
at 2:00 AM
his breathing machine steady as city buses through the rain.

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