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Poetry and Medicine
October 11, 2000

My Mother's Eye

Author Affiliations

Poetry and Medicine Section Editor: Charlene Breedlove, Associate Editor.

JAMA. 2000;284(14):1754. doi:10.1001/jama.284.14.1754

In life, my mother's eye
is small, lashless,
a bead drawn on my back
since childhood. Nothing
escaped her. Now,
through the cataract's conspiring cloud,
she sees two of me, doubly wrong.
Eye of amber, cat's eye, sharp-eyed
owl, homeless floater big as a fist
on the monitor in the cubicle
where I sit transfixed, my eyes
on her eye clamped open
as in death's bald, unblinking
stare, I navigate the three rings
of the planet Eye, its fissures, folds
of secrecy—what she keeps
even from herself: years of great
depression, stupefying blame,
sorrow's spinning finger
that stops at suicide.
I shrink from the usual instruments
of clarity—the needle, for instance,
blood let like Ophelia's tendrils loosed
in the fatal stream. The dogs
of the past are swimming for their lives.
One by one they are hooked and collared,
dragged offscreen grinding terror
between their teeth.
When the new lens wheels across the empty cavern
of my mother's eye, flanges unfurling,
memory's black hole fills
with anemone, blossom and star.