It started when I was 16,
after instead of falling in love
with Jesus, I fell in love with a boy,
a little bit of God’s wrath now living
in my right shoulder, right hip,
right side of my newly kissed neck.
I knew he was jealous,
God, not the boy. Maybe because
instead of reading a chapter in Proverbs before bed
I spoke to the boy on the phone, whispering, my body
cramped in the dark corner of the living room,
my family already asleep.
I told the boy I loved him, like a breathy hallelujah,
like the hush of the MRI machine, taking me
into its mouth, or the X-rays, or my silent
bending over in the blue paper gown,
little ass out in front of the doctor
as he checked my spine. And the boy
touched my spine too, as he reached under my shirt
unhooked my padded bra. This was before
the diagnosis, the word itself sounding like a disease,
diagnosis, how it shares the first three letters
of my name. Diagnosis. If I could take
my tiny shovel hand, carve out
the synapses from my head,
shoulders, knees and toes. O bless,
bless, bless, it is meaningless how invisible
the body in pain, when God
is a house I can’t leave.
Image: “Lumbar spine right X-ray marker,” by Michael Dorausch, licensed under CC 2.0
It wasn’t until I read the book Tender Points by Amy Berkowitz, which details the writer’s reckoning with her fibromyalgia diagnosis, that I started to explore my own chronic pain in my poetry. I’d spent over a decade visiting specialists; trying various prescriptions and therapies; missing work, school, and social events— all because of my chronic pain. And none of it truly made sense. I had never injured any part of my body, but at some point an inexplicable damage had been done. This poem explores the genesis of my disability, when I was a girl in love with God and a boy, how the emotional trauma of the love triangle reached deep into my developing body. I don’t imagine that I will ever recover; chronic illness makes no promises. I’ve only begun to understand how to manage it. But my body is the truest teacher. Mine has taught me how resilient it can be in its fragility.