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Poetry and Medicine
March 20, 2002

Migraine: A Villanelle

JAMA. 2002;287(11):1366. doi:10.1001/jama.287.11.1366

There never was a tumor in my head—
at least, not yet. But, even so, the pain,
that boring rod, the vomiting it fed,
came on like fate. Behind my eye, I said,
it stabs the root. But how could I explain?
For if there were no tumor in my head,
the pain must be a brand, the devil's red
encroachment, his burning kiss, the bane
of boring rod and vomiting, which fed
upon my passion and left, instead,
anxious emptiness. After which, the chain
that never bound a tumor to my head,
but held a rat whose gnawing bled
my soul of all its juice—dissolved. To claim
that boring rod and vomiting it fed
brought good is wrong, and yet they led,
when gone, to an exquisite state of pain-
lessness, this never-a-tumor-in-my-head,
nor boring rod, nor vomiting it fed.