“Fifty Words” by Angie Minkin

Angie Minkin


for Pancho

Imagine fifty words
to describe your world,
to define yourself,
your heart.
Imagine your thoughts
trapped like thousands of blue jays,
caught in a too-small cage,
wings battering iron bars.
Imagine no movement, decades of stillness.
You are inside this body, this corset
of bones and muscles, slack, useless.
You move your head and neck in residual
tics; hunt and peck so slowly,
it hurts you, but you persevere.
You type and you learn English, you learn French,
you graduate from high school.
All this after your accident at age 20,
all this after your devastating stroke.
All this after you can no longer move.
Imagine brilliant doctors who implant
a sensor in your brain and those 128 electrodes
pick up forgotten movements
of your vocal cords, your larynx, your throat.
Imagine a cable like a new umbilical cord,
linking your brain to the computer
that starts writing words. Your words.
The algorithm learns as you do,
and suddenly you have fifty words of speech,
racing from your brain waves to the screen.
What words do you need?
Hunger, thirst, hurt, good, bad.
Love, soul, heart.
Hug me. Kiss me.
Perseverance. Hope.
Tell me you love me.
Thank you.

from Poets Respond
July 18, 2021


Angie Minkin: “This week, I was captivated by the story of doctors at UCSF who figured out how to tap into brain waves to help a paralyzed man speak. The patient was an integral part of the experiment but wishes to remain anonymous and is only known by his nickname, Pancho. How extraordinary to have your world opened up in this way. Truly a miracle.”

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