Michael Collier

An Individual History

This was before the time of lithium and Zoloft

 

before mood stabilizers and anxiolytics

 

and almost all the psychotropic drugs, but not before thorazine,

 

which the suicide O’Laughlin called “handcuffs for the mind.”

 

It was before, during, and after the time of atomic fallout,

 

Auschwitz, the Nakba, DDT, and you could take water cures,

 

find solace in quarantines, participate in shunnings,

 

or stand at Lourdes among the canes and crutches.

 

It was when the March of Time kept taking off its boots.

 

Fridays when families prayed the Living Rosary

 

to neutralize communists with prayer.

 

When electroshock was electrocution

 

and hammers recognized the purpose of a nail.

 

And so, if you were as crazy as my maternal grandmother was then

 

you might make the pilgrimage she did through the wards

 

of state and private institutions,

 

and make of your own body a nail for pounding, its head

 

sunk past quagmires, coups d’etat, and disappearances

 

and in this way find a place in history

 

among the detained and unparoled, an individual like her,

 

though hidden by an epoch of lean notation—“Marked

 

Parkinsonian tremor,” “Chronic paranoid type”—

 

a time when the animal slowed by its fate

 

was excited to catch a glimpse of its tail

 

or feel through her skin the dulled-over joy

 

when for a moment her hands were still.


Michael Collier
“An Individual History” first appeared in The Virginia Quarterly Review, Winter 2009.