I adapted this text from Sonya Huber’s poem “What Pain Wants”, which I found in her book Pain Woman Takes Your Keys and Other Essays from a Nervous System. Having lived with chronic pain myself since the age of eighteen, I related strongly to the idea of pain as a constant companion, a sort of being with a cryptic personality.
For my first few years of illness I viewed pain as an enemy to be defeated, or failing that, an intruder to be resolutely ignored; but ultimately these approaches brought me more stress and despair than the pain itself. I have a greater sense of peace imagining pain as a child who will never learn to behave rationally and sometimes just needs to be indulged. Maybe pain isn’t any happier about our relationship than I am, but we’re stuck together and we have to find a way to get along.
Watch soprano Christine Cornell and pianist Fang-Yi Chu perform What Pain Wants:
Pain has something urgent to tell you but forgets over and over again what it was. Pain stares at you with the inscrutable eyes and thin beak of an egret. Pain stubs out the cigarette of your to-do list. Pain likes to start big projects it cannot finish. Pain will get its revenge if you ignore it. Pain resents being personified or anthropomorphized. Pain does not mean any harm. Pain is frustrated that it is trapped in a body ill-fitting for its unfolded shape. Pain has been born in the wrong universe. Pain is wild with grief at the distress it causes you. Pain, when held in place, spirals down into drill bits, so it tries to keep moving. Pain feels as though Earth’s gravity is as strong as Jupiter’s. Pain has something metallic in its bones and is captured by the magnetic core of our hot planet. Pain inhabits curved soft bodies in hopes of fluid movement and then cries when it breaks them.