I don’t know that I ever saw Mother wearing the crystal earrings. The Great Depression came to Oklahoma virtually the day she became pregnant with me. I never saw her dressed as she liked until the fifties and by that time the fashions were drab and I a jaded teen in the costume of the day, sweater, pearls and skirts to the ankles was unimpressed.
The earrings were very much a part of my childhood and the stories Mother told of being a flapper. I imagined then and do now the young woman she was, shimmering in beads, the crystal earrings dancing throwing out bits of light to the rhythms of the Charleston, the Shimmy, the Tango and all the other dances of the era.
One of, if not the, last time I was with my mother in happiness was in Tulsa, She awakened me at dawn one morning to shimmy up the mimosa tree to return a baby robin to its nest.
The treasure and beauty of her children, nature and Emerson were her life.
In fact she so valued me that soon after that event she had begun to take on my identity, an attempt to replace unfamiliar parts of her own ego.
The tardive dyskinesia began almost immediately following the injection of poisonous fluphenazine and the motion never remitted.
On the twigs of her wrists, my mother’s hands
bobolink, titmouse, linnet, finch
Flutter in her lap, peck her blouse’s buttons
wagtail, waxwing, solitaire, brambling
Curl into nests, shivering fists
rose finch, siskin, tanager
Pale and ringless, nails bitten to the quick
phoebe, bulbul They reach for a cigarette, whisk the air with matches
vireo, towhee, longspur
Doodling fingers, tapping thumbs flicker in feathers of smoke
grackle, chat, blue bunting
My mother’s wings rise in her silent room, a dance of ashes and light
diamond starling, vesper sparrow, alabaster seraphim
I touch them
Cambridge, Mass *
The progressive exchange for identity never remitted.
On the day she died, 15 years later, she had become convinced that indeed I was the impostor
* “Tardive Dyskinesia” by Michael Mack, Cambridge, Ma.
© Poetry and Medicine
JAMA, March 10, 2004
Vol. 291. No. 10.
** Multiple efforts to obtain a response from JAMA or reach Dr Mack to gain permission to publish his poignant poem have proven unsuccessful. If he shall see this and object to my reproducing it, it will be taken down immediately.