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Explaining Pain

                       It’s like getting lost
in a foreign country. You do not speak the language.
                       You stop

to ask directions. People say lumbar radiculopathy. Facet

Broad-based disc protrusion. Forget your destination.

                       The trick is not
to feel self-pity. The way I do it is to say my body
                       is not my

body anymore. It is someone else’s. The pain, therefore,
                       is no longer
mine. I am merely visiting this bedroom where someone

                       I don’t know
lies in pain, waiting for sunrise. I bend over his body
                       and ask

solicitously where, when, and for how long it has
He tells me. We sigh together, companionably.

                       Dawn comes
slowly. First, the sky whitens. Ghostly trees emerge
                       like the images

on photographic paper in the stop bath
                       of a darkroom.
You have a whole new day of pain ahead of you.

                       The sunset from pain’s
window is painted by an artist who dips the finest, camel-hair
                       watercolor brushes

in cochineal, royal purple, amber, tangerine, salmon, raw sienna,
                       burnt umber.
Sky flames. And then its coals cool. A rose glow suffuses

                       the horizon
like the traces of a woman’s carmine lipstick on a light-gray
                       napkin. And now

the painter, grown tired of sunset, rinses those blazing brushes
                       in a clear glass jar
fof water. All color dissolves. The water turns to dusk.

                       Pain is needy.
What did I do today? Talked to it as to a lover.
                       “How does

that feel? Is it better when you lie on your side
                       and put a pillow
between your legs? Curl knees up to your chest?”

                       I tell my body
that we will go to dinner tomorrow with two old friends.
                       It will be

a Roman dinner. We’ll reenact Pompeii, wear togas,
                       recline in style
on cushioned couches called lecti—not painful, straight-backed

                       chairs—in the triclinium,
or formal dining room. We’ll drink a whole bottle of cabernet.
                       Or rather my friends

will drink the wine for me, since I can’t mix alcohol with
                       the drugs I’m on.
They are good drugs. We’ll have some fun before Vesuvius blows.

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