in which two voices discuss the merits of writing about pain
—after David Grossman*
But if I don’t write it I won’t understand
What is left to understand?
Here is the body, breaking.
I must re-create it in the form of a story
What is left to tell?
Here are the cells, slit and slivered,
shadows of impossible futures.
That’s the only way I can somehow get close to it
What is left to approach?
Here is the here, the inside of always.
I have to dance around in front of it, I have to move,
not freeze like a mouse who sees a snake
What dances are left? Here is the left hip,
here is the right, here is the folding chair
by the dance floor for the moment of slippage.
I have no other way. You have to get that:
I have no other way—
The other way—well, you know,
I shouldn’t have to tell you.
No more scattering words
from your hands onto the ground,
I want to knead it—yes, it, the thing that happened,
the thing that struck like lightning and burned everything I had—
What is left to knead?
Even a book is heavy as blood in the hands.
Here, at my desk, with the rain coming down
just past the roof’s overhang, window glass dry for now—
here, with cheap ballpoint swiped from the bank teller’s counter
and clean ivory paper in a neatly-bound book—
here, with feet propped on the windowsill
under the desk made by a stranger’s ex-husband
and purchased from her for $20 in a hotel parking lot—
here, in a dim room full of houseplants and books and,
for the first time in weeks, quiet—here I am trying to begin
to try to write the name of what has no name, no signifier,
what cannot even be uttered, what should instead
be kicked like an errant stone with a booted foot
and left in the rainswept gutter for the eventual sea to take in,
for the sea to bring under itself as the sea does
with all our mortal refuse, where it will settle
under the continental shelf, uncontemplated by anyone—
Let the sea. Let the water. Let the salt seawater take this stone
and sink it.
I am always at this desk. Even when I spend weeks
dancing around it like a snake who sees a mouse.
Or a mouse who sees a snake?
Which one of us is hungry for the other?
If you write it: what is left of hunger?
Even a scrap, a crumb of understanding: my gratitude.
If you write it: what is left of gratitude?
When I fall asleep I imagine light filling the cracks
between my joints, goldenrod light in a blueblack field,
as if I were a child again and my parents
still awake on the other side of the door.
If you write it: what is left of light?
There is a struggle—do you know it?—at the seams of the day.
A moment when I wonder, still, which way
the sun will go. As if it were possible to watch twilight
brighten and blue. As if my witnessing could change the sun’s course.
I mean to say: As if writing could change the fact of the body.
*Left-aligned italicized text (from “But if I don’t write it…” through “burned everything I had”) is borrowed from Falling Out of Time by David Grossman.
PLANS FOR THE EXOSKELETON I’D LIKE YOU TO HELP ME BUILD
Wrap me in gold ace bandages. Wrap me in red rubber. Give me a shine. Tie me up so my body can’t separate itself from itself. This body is Houdini; it has ways we can’t even dream. Wrap me in hard plastic. Snake coils of silver around my fingers. Tie hemp rope around my ankles, knees, hips, shoulders, elbows, wrists, neck. Make me a mummy. Make me unrecognizable. Make me your nightmare. Grow me an orange crustacean shell in your petri dish. Make me a bug—tell Kafka I’m the volunteer he’s been searching for. He can let Gregor go. Swaddle me in printed cotton, leaving only my face out. Take care to wrap the whole hand, not like a mitt, but so each finger rests in its own cocoon of delicate fibers. Make me a cloud. Bring me home and I will hover over you, full of the promise of rain.