Old Scratch

duckweed 3

Itchiness wakes you in the night: chigger bites, mosquito & no-see-um bites, poison ivy, athlete’s foot, eczema, dermatitis, hives, dry scalp. Itches without cause or number. You scratch yourself awake, then lie still, focusing on the unrelieved itchiness the same way you focused on your nicotine craving when you quit smoking. What is this “I” who feels itchy? What are you really, apart from this urge to scratch?

Life is unsatisfactory, said the Buddha: there is itchiness. Or as the medical professionals say: pruritis. Ha! Speak of an itch & it will appear. Its names are legion:

arm itch, thumb itch,
calf itch, back itch,
breast itch, chest itch,
lip itch, rib itch,
forearm itch, foreskin itch,
elbow itch, ankle itch,
facial itch, anal itch,
mouth itch, muscle twitch,
groin itch, gum itch,
head itch, heel itch,
wrist itch, fingernail itch,
kneecap itch, behind-knee itch,
leg itch, neck itch,
nipple itch, nose itch,
scalp itch, stomach itch,
eye itch, eyelid twitch,
vaginal itch, clitoris itch,
testicle itch, penile itch,
thigh itch, shin itch,
underarm itch, eyebrow itch,
ear itch, cheek itch,
sole itch, shoulder itch,
knuckle itch, upper arm itch,
buttock itch, foot itch,
hand itch, finger itch,
palm itch, jaw itch.

Hearing these words, you begin to itch all over. You’re scratching places you’ve never scratched before!

Ready-made phrases float through your half-awake brain as they’re supposed to, responding to an itch for rhythm & meaning. What’s in a name? Itchiness is not exactly pain, & scratching an itch is not exactly pleasure, is it? Real pain cannot be eased by scratching, & real pleasure cannot be found solely in the response to one’s own itches — I should know. Pain has a single dimension; happiness, they tell me, has three.

Itchiness, then, is two-dimensional, a thing of surfaces. When you gaze at the so-called heavens, you’re really looking at the underside of the world’s own, fatty skin. At night, the stars shimmer from its spasmodic twitching, full of these chiggers called human beings —

going to & fro in the earth,
& walking up and down in it.

No wonder the whirlwind descends, that great middle finger.

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Dave Bonta (bio) crowd-sources his problems by following his gut, which he shares with 100 trillion of his closest microbial friends — a close-knit, symbiotic community comprising several thousand species of bacteria, fungi, and protozoa. In a similarly collaborative fashion, all of Dave’s writing is available for reuse and creative remix under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 United States License. For attribution in printed material, his name (Dave Bonta) will suffice, but for web use, please link back to the original. Contact him for permission to waive the “share alike” provision (e.g. for use in a conventionally copyrighted work).

20 Comments


  1. What? No mention of the seven year itch?

    You talk of itchiness as if it’s a purely negative thing…but isn’t the itch behind “I’ll scratch your back if you scratch mine” the beginning of society, civilization being not much more than a cluster of apes picking nits from one another’s hides?

    Reply

  2. What are you saying — civilization is a positive thing?

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  3. mb – Don’t ask me — I just work here.

    marja-leena – My pleasure.

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  4. “What are you saying — civilization is a positive thing?”

    That has to be the best blog-comment comeback line ever!

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  5. That’s it? — “I just work here”? You surprise me, Dave.

    Reply

  6. So, now I’m confused. Should I be applying mini missionaries or tiny demons for those itches in places I can’t reach?

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  7. Dave!

    Since falling into those young women’s carved forearms in Japan I’ve not been able to self-rescue. All this time. Haven’t you heard my sobs? Drop a rope! By your crunchy footstepsI know that you’re near. A hot red river is running over my feet and it’s rising. You never hinted of an host that would not release; of a healing that would leave blind and breathless.

    Ah, the crack ebbs to closure and the sky brightens
    as though the lights were finally turned on.

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  8. Whoops!

    That was all based on a folkloric assumption that chiggers burrow which I now know they do not. I must be thinking of some other vein-ascending August phantom.

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  9. Wait — they don’t? (I’m new to chiggers. They’re just now moving in here.)

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  10. Yeah, that would’ve been a good match for “thumb itch.” Well, if I ever get an itch to revise it, that’ll go in.

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  11. Aloe Vera gel is brilliant for all itches. Except the 7-year one.
    Your itch list sounds like it could be put to music. Maybe like” the kneebone connected to the thighbone…etc…I hear the voice of the Lord…” Wasn’t Job supposed to have had serious itching among his woes?

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  12. Natalie – Good call! I was thinking about that very song (as well as Rabelais’ infamous lists) when I wrote that!

    And you’re right about Job, too: he was afflicted with a skin disease, and sat scratching himself with a potsherd.

    Reply


  13. Informative page you have, it’s surely beneficial to learn more on this subject. One should learn as much as possible to be able to put it into a good use. Here is another page I thought may be of interest to some its about Vaginal Itching [links removed by site author].

    Reply

  14. When it comes to itching and scratching it, pain and pleasure has never been this close to heaven. Just love it when the itch slowly develops into an open wound, scab and scar. Not to mention the sharp pain that comes later on in the shower when hot water splashes on it.

    Reply

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