This poem appears in the frontispiece to Memory Lessons: A Doctor’s Story, by Jerald Winakur, a geriatrician who openly details his childhood, his career, and the changes in medical care over the decades, then how they all come together as he is forced to confront his own father’s decline into Alzheimer’s dementia. The poet is his wife, Lee Robinson.
If you ask me what I believe in,
it is the body of the ninety year old
straining to stand upright, each vertebra
a testament, each muscle a miracle.
It is the shape of her head,
a sculpture the artist
has been working on for centuries,
the skull visible
under the veil of skin,
and if you ask me for a sermon
I will give you that skin,
every wrinkle a parable.
If you insist upon sacrament
I say take her hand in yours:
it is the only way to save yourself.
Fold your flesh into her bones
until you do not have to ask me anymore
what to believe in.
It is the body