How does it enter? Through nostril? Or through the mouth, dissolving on the tongue then sliding down the throat? Maybe it wedges itself beneath the toenail, finding a roof there, a shelter for a season’s rest. There’s talk about the one that enters when somebody cuts you deep, the one that tunnels your heart, inches up and blows out all the candles in the room. They say that one sucks the guts and the marrow till you’re a net of bones, nearly scattering at the edge of a bed. But no one knows if it’s like that, really. And no one knows how it enters, or when. Does it come at the moment of the inhale before the first cough? Or in time with the first pinch of the aching knee? Is it years before that? Before you learn to thread a sewing machine? To cook beneath the sky in a coal pot, throwing coconut shells into the fire; when pain was predictable and understood, when it had a clear cause: the prick of a needle, the lick of a flame?


From What Noise Against the Cane by Desiree C. Bailey. © 2021 Desiree C. Bailey. Reproduced by permission of Yale University Press.