by Scott Owens
Beat Chronic Pain: An Insider’s Guide
Line of Sight Press
This is a poetry journal, so why would I include, much less write, a review of a nonfiction, self-help book called Beat Chronic Pain: An Insider’s Guide? Because it is written by a poet, because it contains poetry (15 of them, to be precise, more than many chapbooks of poetry I’ve seen), because I found it remarkably helpful in my ability to understand those who suffer chronic pain and in thinking about my own relatively pain-free life, and because my favorite part of the book is a poem, specifically, the poem reprinted below, which exemplifies the quality of the work in this book, and which I hope will convince would-be readers to say Yes to this book.
The First Word I Said and Where It Led Me
by Maren Mitchell
Maybe I should have said: Maybe.
To hedge against all decisions,
weighing them for years.
Or: No. Insulation against everything out there.
I said: Yes.
Yes to sound: My breath in.
Yes to hearing the breath of others
pant of terror and exhaustion
sigh of relief
intake of surprise
tap dance of laughter
expectancy of touch.
Yes to the tiny grit grasp of birds who stay through winter,
to their warm-weather overlapping conversations
of hunger, fighting, passion, pairing: music.
Yes to my mate’s voice, calling, naming, telling: my music.
Yes to sight: Claiming all I see as mine.
Yes to the body light of fireflies, the glow of ocean’s lanterns.
Yes to the immeasurable, inevitable increase of light after night,
each day recreated, hints edging into definitions,
teasing shades springing into watercolors.
Yes to the growth and contours of my planet
that house more creatures than we will ever know.
Yes to looks, actions, thoughts, being of my Heart: my sun.
Yes to the coming night, window through the Milky Way, to out.
Yes to smell: Flesh of family and friends,
oscillating aromas of plants as they grow,
the blatant strength of their true natures released
as we harvest to eat, burn, cook, decorate.
Yes to touch: Air that almost acknowledges us
as it oozes, blusters, idles
around our clothed, hairy forms.
Yes to the protection of plants,
woven into caressing tee-shirts, quilt caves.
Yes to the silk of animals who musk us as their own,
the forever and daily holding of loves, their hold of me.
Yes to the essential slide of liquid down throats,
crunchy carrots talking the language of rocks,
the subtle slice of bread with butter comfort.
Yes to taste: Just-picked tart blueberries under sun,
taut neutral skins enclosing nips of sweet freedom.
Sour of the tropics, come-hither lull of key lime,
sparking the soul to believe in eternal youth.
Salt of sweat, anchor to earth.
The bitter of knowing we all leave, we leave all,
at the mercy of time,
time, the only mercy.
Yes, Maren’s book is great and so is this poem!
Maren, I share your pain! Happy to see a deserving book get a good review.
Thanks, Karen, Robert and Barbara. And heart-felt thanks to you, Scott, for your big heart. I am in your debt.
Maren, your book is superb, and this poem is an example, so profoundly put . Its message is life-affirming and reminds me of the famous words in Our Town, “Oh world, you’re just too beautiful for anyone to realize!”
Thank you, Joan, enduring fan that you are. And the world is.
I am delighted that Scott has chosen to review this wonderful book. As he says, the work is by a poet who writes so well and the book is chock full of her poems. This one is very special.
Glenda, you know how grateful I am to you. And I continue to be. Thank you.