Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Pitchblende Fundraiser Sestina #4: The Sestina of Chronic Pain

The Sestina of Chronic Pain

I demolished my left knee when I was seventeen,
not playing basketball or fighting bullies, like a tough
fucker, but going down stairs––just living––like an old
person. Congenital deformity, said the series of doctors.
Misshapen femur plus extreme hypermobility. Fate.
Pain would be with me the rest of my life. A tattoo.

I dragged my twisted leg to get my first tattoo
at Skinquake. I was barely old enough. Just eighteen.
The artists begrudged their trampstamp-dolling fate,
laughed at the squirming sororisluts [sic]. I was tough,
I assured them. I would not cry for mother, doctors,
or Jesus. My skin was young but my soul was old.

I liked that body-modification was thousands of years old.
I would be ageless and reborn with this poorly-sketched tattoo
of a burning Phoenix. At the turn of the millennium, doctors
were way more skeeved out by needles than they are in 2014.
I was afraid of AIDS and hep-C, but said nothing. The tough-
guy inside of me shrugged off my paranoia. Fate was fate.

The needle spat and pulsed, sealing the epidermal fate
of my left shoulder-blade. The stung shook me. The old
pain in my leg was still there, but it didn't seem as tough.
It was stale, tedious compared to this new torment. The tattoo
let me forget, for a few hours at least, that I was told as a teen
that I could never hope to live without pain. Thank you, doctors.

You made me want to live for years without doctors.
I cursed my premature hobble. I Woe is me'd my fate––
tossing in bed from the stab, a gimp with a cane at nineteen.
I drank. I loved unkind people. I rushed cranky and old.
I lied about love. I smoked. I picked at each new tattoo.
I limped through most of my twenties. It was tough.

I'd like to tell you my leg no longer hurts. That some tough-
love yoga teacher or guru or series of enlightened doctors
fixed me. They did not. It still hurts. Once a year I get a tattoo.
Sometimes I beg my lovers to beat me. Love hurts. Our carnal fate.
I meditate. What is life but various states of pain? I'm an old
hat at this game. I blew out my knee playing it at seventeen.

By the time I'm old, my skin will be one big, sagging tattoo
shrouding a teenage heart. This specimen will baffle doctors
for its commonness. The tough of scar around the tenderest fate.

Jade's Notes:

This sestina was written for the marvelous Sarah Wait Zaranek, who was one of the TEN cowriters. She asked for a sestina on the topic of "transcending pain." This was a personal one for me, as is evident in the poem itself. She'd originally asked for iambic pentameter, but also said it "wasn't necessary." I used to exclusively write sestinas in iambic pentameter, but when I started to write this one, it wanted to come out without meter. I checked in with Sarah, and she said that a meterless pain poem was peachy.

More Pitchblende fundraiser sestinas on the way! Follow Pitchblende on Facebook and Twitter!

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