This poem is written in pantoum form. The pantoum is a series of quatrains (or four-line stanzas) where the second and fourth lines of each stanza are repeated as the first and third lines of the following stanza. The first and third lines of the first stanza are then brought back into the final stanza as well, creating a circle. This repetition means the poem does not “travel” far – rather, it hovers over a specific moment, ultimately ending in a circularity that brings the poem back to the original thought that began it. Thus, a pantoum often evokes a trance-like or dream-like feeling–the sort of feeling one gets in the moment between waking and sleeping, when one’s body is already asleep as one’s mind hangs on for a last moment, taking in clearly each sound and movement in the room, though one’s eyes are closed. Yet this need not always be the case. I do not apologize for my poetry – I stand by it as it has stood by me. My work here is a good deal longer than the usual length for a pantoum. I intend, at some point, to edit it further and shorten it–as it is, I believe there is too much information, and the power of the words could be greatly increased by narrowing the focus. But before I give you the text of my poem as it exists now, I leave you with deep wisdom from author and poet Gregory Orr:
The truth is, to a very great extent, we all of us live our lives with our faces pressed up against the unknown and unknowable next moment. . . . The self, in my image, is like a tiny island in a vast sea of chaos, and it’s also like those conch shells you lift to your ear to hear the ocean’s roar: the chaos of the sea is inside the self also. . . . When someone, in the throes of a powerful and disturbing experience, turns instinctively to the writing or the reading of a poem, it is because they sense the personal lyric can be a powerful aid in helping them survive and make sense of their experience. . . . The personal lyric says to the self in its suffering: “I will not abandon you. Nor will I ask you to abandon yourself and the felt truth and particulars of your experience.” . . . Imagining the poem’s suspended moment as a threshold between disorder and order can tell us a lot about poetry and about ourselves. . . . At the threshold, linguistic, imaginative, and emotional energies are vastly heightened. . . . It is just such a place where we feel most alive, where both exchange of energy and change itself can happen. It is on a threshold, at the edge, where we are most able to alter our understanding of the world and of our own lives in it. . . . Autobiographical storytelling can take personal experience back from silence, shame, fear, or oblivion. It says, “I cherish this,” or, “This haunts me.” It asserts the significance of events on one’s life: “This happened to me.” “I did this.” “This is part of who I am.” “This should not or will not disappear, and I act to preserve it by turning it to words and shaping them as story.” – Gregory Orr, Poetry As Survival
Psychogenic pain, also called psychalgia, is physical pain that is caused, increased, or prolonged by mental, emotional, or behavioral factors. . . . Sufferers are often stigmatized, because both medical professionals and the general public tend to think that pain from psychological sources is not “real.” However, specialists consider that it is no less actual or hurtful than pain from other sources. – Wikipedia.com
Chronic: Pantoum for Our Psychalgias
I don’t know what pain is like.
It’s not something I could have
ever experienced, you say. Not after
the red-hot switchblade sliding down your throat.
It’s not something I have
ever wanted—tendons torn.
The steaming blade you felt sliding in your throat
twisted your life around.
Have I ever wanted your torn pain?
Calcaneus, talus, tendon-stretched cripple. It
twisted your life, a round,
pulsing thing that rises—does not rise.
I can’t claim that callous, tendon-stretched pain; it
isn’t something I know. That
pulsing thing that rises without rising.
Can I have experienced it?
Isn’t it something? To know
what hurt I have felt is not enough.
I can’t experience pain the way
you have. Wrists of knotted electricity.
What hurt have I felt? It’s not enough
to have my heart broken, and not even for love.
No wish for knots, no electric veins.
My dull ache can’t compete with your maelstrom eversion.
To have my heart broken, but not for love—
it doesn’t make a good story. The drip
of my ache can’t compete with yours, you say.
That viscosity, that skin of a thing that grips you—
it does make a good story. The drip,
your leaking agony, is better than mine. Tantalizing,
viscous, amniotic skin. The things that grip you
are better than the stinging things that grip me.
Better than mine, your wound is tantalizing,
your story: raw and tangible, tearing muscles.
You say lesser things—fickle, amoebic bruises—grip me,
and I cannot know what you experience.
Your raw story. Tangible, tearing hurt.
You, paralyzed in a fluid world that never stops.
No, I can’t know your experience
with pain. Who am I to speak of heartache?
Paralyzed in a fluid world that never stops,
you point out how I still move
within it. Who am I? To speak of heartache is to destroy
your covetous thought: I am not damaged like you.
You point out how I still move, and
to you, that means I am unblemished.
I shall not covet you, to be damaged like you, for
in your eyes, there is room only for one to be flawed.
You preserve us, together, unblemished—
I can never have your experience.
In your eyes, you are marred—the only one—
and I don’t, I can’t, know what pain is like.