“Relative Sanity” by Ellen Lord

“Old Door” by Sydney McKenna, watercolor, 22″ x 30″

In my dream mother was waiting for me in a room with old-world charm, classic books and high ceilings. Rare pieces of art lined the shelves, multicolored masks and Merino glass sculptures shimmered in the afternoon light.

She sat curled in a leather chair gazing out the window at a mottled sky.  She was barefoot in a cotton dress, young with long auburn hair and bottomless eyes. In her distracted loveliness, she didn’t look like the woman I remembered. She smiled as I approached and then softly faded away.

Later, I had visions of her escape from Newberry State Hospital. She was 33 years old with five children. Daddy and Grandpa put her there after she attempted to tame a nervous breakdown with doses of Mogen David wine. It was sometime in autumn of 1957 and the weather was turning cold.  

She never told me how she got out of those  locked doors and caged windows but she hitchhiked 200 miles clad in hospital garb and  worn slippers. She would later recall, “the nicest folks gave me a ride and it was the best time I had in a long while….I felt reckless and wild.” 

My memory flashes to the night she got home. I was awakened by lights flashing in the driveway. The police had come; she had locked herself in the bathroom and we could hear the shower running. She spoke calmly through the door, “I’ll come out when I’m damn well ready.”

I remember everyone waiting and waiting….

They took her back to the asylum and she didn’t return that year. We would drive to see her on weekends; Lake Michigan iced and roiling along U.S. 2 as the winter settled in. She gave us braided lanyards and moccasins from art therapy. I don’t remember saying goodbye to my mother but I recall the quiet ride home.

asylum seeker
dancing barefoot and childless
in another life


Ellen Lord is a Michigan native. Her poetry has appeared in Open Palm Print Magazine, Peninsula Poets Chapbooks and Traverse Area District Library Poets Night Out chapbooks. She was the recipient of the Mike McGuire Poetry Prize in 2019 and won the Landmark Books Haiku Contest in 2017. She is a member of the Fresh Water Poets Group in Traverse City and the Charlevoices Writers’ Group in Charlevoix. She is a behavioral health therapist and loves working with folks who navigate the murky perimeters of mainstream society.

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  1. Pingback: Contributors Summer 2019 | Rkvry Quarterly Literary Journal

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