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Poetry and Medicine
September 12, 2007

Degenerative Disc Disorder

Author Affiliations

Poetry and Medicine Section Editor: Charlene Breedlove, Associate Editor. Poems may be submitted to jamapoems@jama-archives.org.

JAMA. 2007;298(10):1136. doi:10.1001/jama.298.10.1136

Three weeks in pain, on a scale of one to ten, a twelve,
and no sleep to speak of, just what I can snatch
sitting upright in a chair, ice pack behind my back,
taking the best pharmaceuticals money can buy,
which don't bring it down, not even a notch.
And what I miss most of all isn't sleep, no,
it's the bedding—the rose flannel sheets,
the quilt we bought from the Mennonites
that's fallen into threads—we can't replace
it because so much love happened under its log
cabin blocks—the pillow that molds to my body
like an extra arm, one with billowing flesh—
I miss being horizontal, feeling my bones suspend,
floating in night's dark pond, anchored
to your familiar body, its steady warmth,
the way you let me slip my icy feet
under your thighs. Not sex; I can't imagine sex—
that's something from another country, far away.
No, I am marooned, downstairs, on an island
of pain, in a night that won't end, waiting
for a day that promises no better. My spine
is disintegrating, falling in pieces, hooks
and barbs that cause the muscles to spasm
and clench. And there they sit, those harpies,
jabbing their cruel little feet on a nerve.
While upstairs, the sleepers nestle deeper
in their covers, their breaths rising,
yeast in the sweet bread of morning.