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Lisa Haag Kang

With 10 Being Unbearable

With 10 Being Unbearable

When they’ve flayed the knobby, fist-sized boil on your leg and left it open to drain its mangled angry blood and weeping pus.

When they’ve checked their boxes, run their tests, and verified the legion bleeding lesions in your gut.

When they’ve counted your 4 fractured, paper-thin ribs, placed 5 sticky electrodes above your ruined heart, drawn tubes and tubes and tubes of blood, and placed an IV in your desiccated arm after 6 tries, 2 nurses, and 1 ER doctor with a venous ultrasound machine.

Then, they want to know: On a scale from 0 to 10, with 0 being none and 10 being unbearable, what is the level of your pain?

From my plastic chair in the corner, I can see you are weighing the meaning of unbearable. You wonder if it applies right here, right now.  You want to be accurate. You want to tell the truth.

One nurse taps a pen. The other shifts her weight from side to side. Her smile is too polite.

I could tell them. Your pain is a pulsing crimson throat, a starving fledgling’s yearning beak.

It’s a trapped wolf’s gnawed paw, a battered woman’s hunted face.

It’s waking up in a box six feet under or shots fired and nowhere to run.

It’s the panicked fly, dzzt, dzzt, dzzt, crushing itself against the window as the abandoned car’s temperature rises and the air turns to glass in the lungs.

It’s the call from the highway patrol, the uniformed knock on the door.

It’s the train growing ever larger as the car’s engine sputters and dies in the crossing.

It’s bracing for impact.

It’s knowing there’s nothing I can do to change a thing.

I sit back in my chair, silent because there is no check-box for terrifying or inescapable or unending, just as there’s no space for I can’t watch this any longer or Please, God, let it stop.

And you say, I think right now it’s a 9. Septicemia was worse.
They nod and say, OK.

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Lisa Haag Kang’s work has appeared in Passages North, Spoon River Poetry Review, Spillway, The Examined Life, Hayden's Ferry, and others. Her poetry chapbook, A Benign Sort of Cannibalism won the Clockwise poetry chapbook competition, and is forthcoming from Tebot Bach. Another chapbook, Stiletto Moon was published by Kelsay Books in 2016.

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