Editing Pain

Bodies are like cars: some are lemons. Mine’s not a lemon on a grand scale, like a Toyota with the accelerator stuck to the floor. More a worn-out Chevy with a polished exterior which fools those who don’t look under the hood.

Periodically I write poems to my body, like throwing a biscuit to a snarly dog. Earlier attempts were dismal flops. After all, pain is not a popular party guest.

But I’ve kept trying, figuring the more I learn about language, the better my skills for conveying that four letter word. Talk about a poetry walk – this one’s internal.

At last, I think I’m getting there, though the first draft wasn’t promising:


It’s not a matter of sleeping
on clouds, no lift of air
holds without
a touch. It’s not the warm
slosh of water giving way
beneath a hip’s pressing
weight. It’s not the sharpness
of spring coiled beneath
the chemical of foam
layers. It’s latex, natural
outpouring from an injured
tree that lies spread
beneath my aching joints.

It doesn’t help. I try again,
learn to lie straight-legged
in bed, to leave womb’s curl
behind, try to ease the cramp my mind
knows by heart. But this highway
has traffic that does not stop,
nerves flash code even
scientists can’t decode.
I roll again.

Sleepless has been through so many revisions, it’s kept me up at night. But it needed it. Since I wrote it at 2 am, I wasn’t paying the kind of attention to detail I’ve been working on. For example, I never stopped to ask whether the title conveyed the meaning of the poem. Or what the opening ‘It’s’ referred to, the one repeated in the next three sentences. In both cases, I was committing one of my usual sins: assuming too much. I may know what the poem’s about, but if my readers don’t, the poem fails.

Having fixed those issues, I next had to deal with mixed metaphors. Slipping traffic in at 2 am is excusable. Allowing it to stay is not. Yes, doctors now speak of pain highways in the body. Someday, I’ll work on a poem with space for naming that road. But this one had too many images already. So cut. On to the next draft and the search for images I could slide in, ones that didn’t make my research too obtrusive. The last thing I want is to give the impression of a lecture hall.

So this meant the word ‘mitochondria’ couldn’t be used. But the metaphor ‘tiny power plants’ could. And thanks to my overriding nature theme, it was easy to incorporate the fact that trees have mitochondria too. (I think that is so cool.)

Finally, I needed an ending. Oh endings. I’ve not been brilliant at them in the past. For example, I forgot to write one for the first sermon I gave, so I simply stopped and said, ‘Bye bye.’ Yes. I really did that. In front of a whole church-full of people. Stellar.

I’m getting better at them now, thanks to a wonderful essay by Ottawa poet Barbara Myers in Arc Poetry Magazine’s Winter 2010 issue (see an excerpt here). Now I sit and gaze into space while I ask myself that crucial question: ‘what am I trying to say?’ Once I’ve figured the answer out, not only does the ending usually come, but the whole poem often gets tighter. Someday, I will learn to ask this question earlier in the process. I hope.

Here’s the current draft of this poem – it will be revisited:

Living With Fibro
Myalgia Aches

I’d like to sleep on clouds, the lift of air
holding without a touch. Or on
the warm slosh of water contained
in rubber, to heat my hip’s
pressing bone. At least I gave up
the sharpness of spring coiled
beneath the chemical of foam layers.
Bought latex, nature’s gift
from an injured tree, to conform
to my tender joints, shape-shifter
learning my body’s subtle arch,
passing weight around.

It doesn’t help. I try new tricks, learn
to lie straight legged, leave womb’s curl
behind to ease the cramps my mind
knows by heart. But nerves flash distress
with messages scientists can’t decode.
They point to cells’ hidden contents,
the tiny power plants we share
with trees, the ones that sometimes
go wrong. I turn again, cast my mind
further, away from body’s reach to where
sleep waits, a fog longing to roll in.
Tomorrow will be rough.




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