do not speak to me of pain
after my father died, i saw him everywhere.
driving the bus. in the hardware store discussing the unique
benefits of one lawn mower over another. waving at me from
from coffin shaped clouds.
when i was trying to fall pregnant, all i saw were
pregnant women. some with one already in the pram. a second
toddling alongside the wheels. a third selfishly baking
in wombs fertilised with blood & bone.
now everywhere i look i see exhausted women.
this one in a yellowing field. a white knight-less horse in the
distance. fat red book on her head. red is her colour.
knowledge becomes her.
she looks on at the man banging on about
his pain. she listens. wilting like a garden of artichokes
planted too close to the frost. the drum of her heart, heavy
as a load of un-spun bath towels hauled from the washing
machine & hung on the line
never to dry.
the surgeon with the funnel on his head
(that no-one seems concerned about) makes his first incision.
‘I see this all the time,’ he says, hacking into the man’s head
foraging for the stone of madness, ‘particularly in men your age.
A very serious condition–– far more painful than that of the inferior
woman-stone. I mean the average man-stone could easily render
a man unable to take out the bins, cook a meal––even feed the
oxen! Indeed, the best he could perhaps manage might be to
lift a tankard of ale to his very lips!’
the woman slumps forward
onto the table that might topple
if she leans too hard.
she is not used to leaning.
& it is not that she has no sympathy for the man.
just she’s had her own lonely years of period pain, then the ovarian
cancer, the ovariectomy, the appendectomy, the hysterectomy & now
the diverticulitis that has appeared out of nowhere & there is talk
of a man with a funnel on his head removing
the diseased part of her colon.
but she will cross that moss covered bridge when
she comes to it. for now there are bins to take out, oxen to feed
rabbits to stew––with or without artichokes, it will depend
on the crop.
& she knows her own stone of madness
is growing now too. taking up space in her head like her
dead mother’s sideboard she did not want & now sits in her garage
gathering dust & guilt. but she will not have it removed.
she will learn to live with it.
it is what exhausted women do.
Ali Whitelock is a Scottish poet who lives by the sea in a suburb she can ill afford. Her debut poetry collection, ‘and my heart crumples like a coke can’ is published by Wakefield Press and her memoir, ‘Poking seaweed with a stick and running away from the smell’ was launched to critical acclaim in Australia and the UK in 2010. Her poems have appeared in The Moth Magazine, The American Journal of Poetry, The Pittsburgh Quarterly Magazine, The Tahoma Literary Review, Bareknuckle Poet, The Bangor Literary Journal, The Glasgow Review of Books, Poets Republic, NorthWords Now, Gutter Magazine, The Burning House and many others. For further info see: www.aliwhitelock.com
The Ekphrastic Review
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