What Is a Summary of the Poem “Alzheimer’s” by Kelly Cherry?

Kelly Cherry’s poem “Alzheimer’s” is about the poet’s father, a former professional musician who develops the disease. A study of memory, the poem walks the old man through familiar surroundings only to confront him with something he doesn’t recognize – his wife, the white-haired woman standing in the doorway.

Written about her father’s struggle with Alzheimer’s, Kelly Cherry’s poem opens with the narrator describing an old man just back home from the hospital – somewhat at loose ends mentally as is shown by the collection of items in his suitcase. The poem continues with an inventory of the familiar – vines climbing on the house where he lives, the quality of English sunshine, a walkway he built, the car he used to drive.

When he thinks of music, he remembers himself a much younger man, remembers even what he was wearing, and though he remembers that music was important, other concerns have become more immediate. He feels grounded in that he’s returning to a home that he knows, but the same time he’s uncertain how to account for the woman he no longer recognizes who greets him at the door. The poem ends before he asks her – his wife of many years – who she is.