Poem of the Week | February 06, 2008

This week’s poem is “Syringe” by Joanne Diaz, which originally appeared in TMR 30:3 (2007). Joanne Diaz received her MFA from New York University, where she was a New York Times Foundation Fellow. Her poetry has appeared or is forthcoming in AGNI, American Poetry Review, Quarterly West, and The Southern Review.

“I wrote ‘Syringe’ as part of an exploration of the nature of pain and its remedies. The etymology for syringe also allowed me to imagine nerves, plant life, and dreams as various parts of a larger whole.”


            In 1853, Charles Gabriel Pravaz and Alexander Wood developed the
first syringe with a needle fine enough to pierce the skin….The first
recorded fatality from a hypodermic-syringe induced overdose was Dr.
Wood’s wife. The tragedy arose because she was injecting morphine to
excess.                                    -Utopian Surgery website

Perhaps you’ve always known her obvious desire,
her thirst for more, then more: the way she’d wish
for more kissing after the warmth of sex
had risen and gone; the way she’d beg
dinner guests to stay long after the servant
had cleaned the plates and the oil in the lamps
had burned dry; the way she always asked,
even in courtship, the how and the why
of your every declaration, wringing
the roots of thought as if the answers could
fill what existed before the pain began-
that presence that came unannounced, uninvited,
rejected at first then welcomed as part
of daily life.
Even so, if heat is all she feels
in the throbbing, each filament a knife
of fire, a guarantee that cinders through
the night; if she wakes to weep
in the certainty of pain, its circling
through each pathway in the cheeks,
the eyes, the upper lip, so that only
the sweep of a finely woven handkerchief
can count as a kind of washing; if she
can spend all day tending to its need as if
it were the child you never had; then one day
you will have to acknowledge that she might
love the pain, and you won’t be able to
imagine when or how she learned to love
anything to such excess. After
the tooth extractions have failed to relieve
the shooting; after the melancholy
has withered in her temples and refused
to leave; after you have seen the nets of nerves
unfurl in a revolt of heat; after you
and she have exhausted your search for a word
that encompasses the largeness of this woe;
remember this: the garden of lilacs
that she planted before the pain began.
Go there and see the buds clustered,
enclosed and clean, then their limbs, the lean
from left to right, the dew-glistened drift
to the mulch, the blossoms that do not unfold
in time. Think syringa vulgaris. Think
tube, pipe, fistula. Think of filling
the barrel of the syringe, then plunging it
deep in her skin to fill the canals
of her nerves with a dark, sweet dream
of forgetting, then imagine her loving
that opposite of sense, the moment
at which the hairs of your moustache
branch into lilacs, common pinks
and blues flourishing behind her closed eyelids.
The poppy’s milk has a voice
that will sing her into sleeping, and a word
for every thought as she rises
beyond the small feather bed.