pain is not a vital sign

pain like slamming your hand
in a drawer just to feel
the relief when you stop.

pain you assimilate
into your days so that
when you fix it,
you realize that you thought
that’s just what the world was like.

and it is like that.
life is pain,
they say.
love hurts.

but that isn’t a requirement.

there’s pain you have to cope with,
learn to work around,
because you could erase it
but then you might walk so much
that a strained ligament tears.
because the drugs that wipe out the pain
will leave you worse than you were before,
or they might stop your lungs from working.
that’s one way not to be in pain.
(consult your doctor
and your own addictive tendencies,
don’t listen solely to the poet
with a grudge and a mother
who doped her organs into failure).

but there’s pain
you don’t have to bear.
love can be uncomfortable;
the weight of pulling your lover
over a milestone might make
your arms and head ache.
but don’t mistake dramatics for love.
don’t think abuse is average.

and persist even when the doctors tell you
that you must be mistaken
without even listening or looking.
they don’t inhabit your body.
they’re told to consider pain
a vital sign,
but that isn’t right.
pain is not the only way
to know you are alive.

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swallowing the sword of Damocles

everything that has kept me alive
has also nearly killed me.
the cigarettes that overloaded
my overstimulated synapses.
caffeine giving me the energy
to survive another panic attack.
the knowledge of suicide as a way out,
keeping my options open.
running on the waterfront
until my metatarsals nearly broke.

and poetry, providing a pressure valve
for the things too big
for my mind to hold alone,
even though I struggle
to spit out every word.