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Poetry and Medicine
September 5, 2001

The Alzheimer Sonnets

JAMA. 2001;286(9):1013. doi:10.1001/jama.286.9.1013

Some nights still, I hear the horses cry
and smell the fire scorch their manes.
Death leapt up in our stallion's eye
as I tugged and wrangled with his reins.
You did your best to keep the water
coming, hose down the house,
and get our son and daughter
safe away. I ran to douse
the sparks that harried our lawn,
until, at last, the wailing engines came.
These days, my smell is nearly gone
for fruits and flowers—but old flames
still come back. With luck, I'll catch the scent
that love's blaze makes permanent.
The doctors say some pinkish sludge
is what does you in. Gobs of amyloid
and twisted strands that just won't budge
from the brain. Pretty soon, a void
of neurons hangs like some old
moth-eaten sweater, where once
a solid weave of bold
thought reigned. Yet the soul hunts
for clues among the mind's gray runes,
and now and then finds some Rosetta
Stone of memory—an old Sinatra tune
that brings back spirit, if not the letter.
Love, these cells that wink out one by one
are not the song of all that we've become.