Saturday, August 16, 2008

Poem: To My Left Pinkie

Here's a fresh draft regarding my recovery and referred pain. I owe the idea of this piece to Scott Murphy and his wonderful poem, "A Conversation, a Praise." No doubt this poem on a phantom tweak needs some real tweaking before I put it in a finished folder. Comments and criticism appreciated.

To My Left Pinkie

You were not sprained as I twirled
as if suspended on a rotisserie, slamming
each shoulder before my helmet broke
and I lay supine, a failed gymnast
in a hair-raising routine.
You make my neck a liar:
the pain comes from my cervical disks,
old donuts leaking jelly on the nerves,
not from some local dislocation.

I'm past the blackout pain, a telegraphic
shock sharper than any razor stropped,
as if my arm were an electric cattle prod,
my scapulae molten bomb fragments,
my ribs losing their welds,
barbed wire around my thorax
like a poisoned barrel hoop.
Three weeks post-accident
you have achieved a stardom undeserved,
you, alien digit on my keyboard
punishing each 'a' and 'z.'

Faintly I feel your origins
descend my inner arm and elbow
down to the ulna's tip until
pain absolutely concentrates
in your three-jointed misery.
You ache as if you had been broken
or come too near to frostbite
but there's no bruise or swelling,
just your wrinkled cylinder
with two patches of blond hair.
In pain's intensity, your pink and yellow flesh tones
seem strangely psychedelic.
How dare you play the fool
and insist it's you that hurts!
You, you were spared, no miner's canary
but a turd left in the tunnel after rescue.
So easy to ignore before,
I'm sorry I underestimated you.
I pledge allegiance to the body's meanest parts,
all are potential understudies
in the drama of pain's economy.

How odd to be upstaged
by such an undistinguished part.
The indignity! I cannot play
a 7th chord on my guitar, rude evidence
of how the body boils pain
down to an elementary deception.
How can I rail at you and indemnify my spine?
Who switched a deuce for a queen?

Your pain enlists a mother board
of cervical and other plexi
whose interwoven signals
processed through a blind committee
agree you are the victim and the oppressor,
symbol of all that alienates us from ourselves.
If we can't trust the origin of sensation
how can we trust anything?

Locke, Berkeley, Hume, I take it back.
“If a tree falls in a forest,” ha!
It may be that a headache comes
from undetected hemorrhoids,
bursitis from a hangnail,
the tick of my fluttering eye
from an abraded knee.

Pain is a currency, it seems
free traded throughout the corpus,
for me now hoarded in a pinkie bank.
Of all my separations, dislocations
and compressions, you claim pre-eminence.
If you were my middle finger
I could make the right response of you.
Instead I use my right hand to curse you.

Mainly your insult is one of disproportion,
how you encapsulate my suffering
into a small appendage,
oppressed and oppressing,
in no need of splint or dressing,
a nothing elevated to celebrity
in the tabloid of the brain.
You, traitor, puppet, fall guy, shill,
least valuable of digits!
You, worm not worthy of a ring,
usurper through your phantom pain,
poseur, impostor, bastard of extremities,
not even my first choice to pick my nose
when it should be my neck on the marquee!
Still, “Ouch, ouch!”--you win!

Unstably Yours,



  1. Something about the use of you/your in this poem seems like a stumbling block as I read it. I count twenty-eight of ‘em. I think I’d also try to lose some hows. There’s a lot of good stuff here, I think it just needs boiled down a little more. My A.D.D. attention span is telling me that there’s a bit too much extra baggage here.

  2. And God bless you, you bothered to count them, a whole lunar month's worth.

    Truly a first draft, thanks for the comments, will endeavor to more minimize second person and sustain attention.

    You're medicated, I assume? ;-)

  3. Nah, the medication doesn’t agree with me. I have a few tricks and am surrounded by patient people with their own idiosyncrasies. :) Speaking of medication, is there anything you can do about phantom pain?

  4. People are the best, count yourself lucky.

    I don't really have phantom pain but referred pain, though a little exotic.

    Dilantin, Neurontin, SSRIs and many other meds have been employed to treat paresthesias.

    Phantom pain appears to be more central, an imprint on the motor cortex.


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