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ISSUE:  Spring 1982
“Today it is suddenly winter,”—a voice
outside me is saying. From the cheerless
stairwell I enter the street—cold sunlight
on car fenders, sidewalks white with it.
The pain that started behind my left eye
moved like a hand down my neck, across
shoulders, the top vertebrae of the spine,
working down, rooting in. As I cross the street
my feet hit the pavement in a series of small shocks
—the bones of the feet, legs,
tight spaces between the knobs of the backbone,
all take it. Walking is a rhythm
like the blood forced up to the brain,
banging of metal doors in the wind at night.
I knew when I woke up
and saw the furniture in my rooms
ready to move out on its own, the rugs uneasy
over linoleum, and every chair awkward
and arbitrary in its position, I knew
I would have trouble convincing myself
things are going all right. Lies
I keep telling myself are breeding like viruses.
I knew when you left this morning
that I couldn’t sleep it off. Pain takes me
to the center or spins me in circles
trying to get away. Don’t say “spin.”
It’s working deeper now; something is dead
in my stomach, something I need to get rid of.
The truth of my life is so big I can’t not see it.
It is alive in my bedsheets, in the whine
of the refrigerator; it is in these shoes,
the skins of dead animals nobody mourned. Dead things
can’t ask for help. For many, that is the first sign.
I asked for this, my hand shaking
when I pay the woman in the drugstore; I must have asked
for this; it must be my own fault. Each life has rules
and something of my own is claiming me. I’ll take
my own pain back again. Now, outcast,
it keeps attacking me in restaurants, in grocery stores,
at home, and on the street. Sometimes it won’t let go,
as today, binding my legs and arms and demanding
confessions. I confess to crimes
against all the people of pain.
I am bringing the exiles home. That banging
of metal doors against brick I listened to all night
was just some more pain wanting in. Come in.
Live in the center, hated, take everything,
Let’s get it over: what does this world ever give
that it doesn’t take back again? We can keep our pain;
we can keep dying. When the body dies it grows stiff
and swells with all it had kept to itself. Finally
the skin bursts and it all rushes out, stinking, and then
the body lets everything in. Grass, earth, other bodies.
We can’t come to that yet.
We have to keep walking around in our bodies;
we have to keep walking around in our pain.
We have to get up and feed ourselves on the dead things.
We have to keep finding arms to lie down in.
We have to keep walking around with our pain
right inside us, or all the pain in the world will rush
through, like an army, raping and burning, tearing up everything because it can’t find
where it belongs,
its own home in us, where it began.


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