After centuries, we still don't understand pain. The Greeks imagined it almost as a kind of spirit, looking to gain entrance into the body through any wound. In the bible, there are more than 70 mentions of the word pain or suffering. The pain of childbirth, the grief after loved ones die, the pain of lepers and others afflicted with disease; boils, thorns, nails, and crosses— All are meant to illustrate that what comes after pain is the more important experience. Scripture boils down to just one message: wait for it. As for theories of natural selection, organisms that display a nimble ability to survive often do so at the expense of others. The human hand evolved to grasp a rock or fashion a metal spear. The heads of toppled strongmen or dictators were swiftly severed by guillotine; naturally, they died before they could describe how that might have felt. Phantom pain rouses an amputee in the middle of the night, so he'll clutch a leg fashioned of air and blankets. Shooting and stabbing pains send electric nerve signals from the brain to the face and mouth. Neurosurgeons probe this pain that doesn't seem to further the body's instincts for self-preservation: microvascular decompression, stereotactic radiation. But it comes and goes at will, like a capricious god or spirit reminding you of a proverb about how the hurt in the littlest finger becomes agony for the whole body.
Poet Luisa A. Igloria (Poetry Foundation web page, author webpage ) was recently appointed Poet Laureate of the Commonwealth of Virginia (2020-2022). She is Co-Winner of the 2019 Crab Orchard Open Competition in Poetry for Maps for Migrants and Ghosts (Southern Illinois University Press, September 2020). She is the winner of the 2015 Resurgence Prize (UK), the world’s first major award for ecopoetry, selected by former UK poet laureate Sir Andrew Motion, Alice Oswald, and Jo Shapcott. She is the author of What is Left of Wings, I Ask (2018 Center for the Book Arts Letterpress Chapbook Prize, selected by former US Poet Laureate Natasha Trethewey); Bright as Mirrors Left in the Grass (Kudzu House Press eChapbook selection for Spring 2015), Ode to the Heart Smaller than a Pencil Eraser (Utah State University Press, 2014 May Swenson Prize), Night Willow (Phoenicia Publishing, 2014), The Saints of Streets (University of Santo Tomas Publishing House, 2013), Juan Luna’s Revolver (2009 Ernest Sandeen Prize, University of Notre Dame Press), and nine other books. She is a member of the core faculty of the MFA Creative Writing Program at Old Dominion University which she directed from 2009-2015; she also teaches classes at The Muse Writers’ Center in Norfolk. In 2018, she was the inaugural Glasgow Distinguished Writer in Residence at Washington and Lee University. When she isn’t writing, reading, or teaching, she cooks with her family, knits, hand-binds books, and listens to tango music.