Pain lives in the atmosphere
like electricity. Who can blame it

for being here first? Some days,
on the metro, I can hardly bear

not touching my lips to the neck of whomever’s
in front of me: so-and-so’s frail nape, his grim

mole, her translucent hairs. So much
can happen to the body. Sciatica,

waterboarding, migraines, rubber
bullets, melanoma, severed hands mis-paired

in plastic bags and flung to the part
of the highway we call shoulder

I know the list’s flippancy
is dangerous, that pain inflicted and organic are

unequal. But both are pain.
I’m more religious than I used to think,

or something. I expect my turn. I brush
A.’s back with my fingertips as if

he were already wounded; I want to know
if I possess the kind of salve

I know this life will call for. There are bones
that ache forever, eyes blotted out by nitric

acid, groins sundered in childbirth,
a woman I knew from sixth-grade typing class

who died after subsisting on black coffee for longer
than the lifespan of a periodic cicada.

My physical therapist tapes my kneecap with electrodes
neat as miniature lily pads. My muscles shudder.

Later, she uses a needle, and I cry out with a sound
I’ve never made in front of anyone

who has never been inside me. I’m sorry, she murmurs,
steady even then, Forgive me, I’m sorry.

What happens to the human cells
that are looked upon with love? And to the ones that do

the looking? There was an afternoon
with A. in a room on the coast; we

lay in bed with the whole
of our skins almost motionless against each other,

almost glowing, a couple hours before the sunburn remembered
to hurt us. And we looked at each other. Look,

gout-swell. Look, arm-stump. Look, cesarean scar,
frostbite, knife-wound, and you too, soft sternum still

intact, behold the blood invisible, feel
your own clean thrum. Today, I’m thirty.

This is the gift I am giving my body.
This is the gift I am giving my body.

Birthday Poem by Robin Myers

Photo used under CC.