A blog formerly known as Bookishness

By Charles Matthews

"Dazzled by so many and such marvelous inventions, the people of Macondo ... became indignant over the living images that the prosperous merchant Bruno Crespi projected in the theater with the lion-head ticket windows, for a character who had died and was buried in one film and for whose misfortune tears had been shed would reappear alive and transformed into an Arab in the next one. The audience, who had paid two cents apiece to share the difficulties of the actors, would not tolerate that outlandish fraud and they broke up the seats. The mayor, at the urging of Bruno Crespi, explained in a proclamation that the cinema was a machine of illusions that did not merit the emotional outbursts of the audience. With that discouraging explanation many ... decided not to return to the movies, considering that they already had too many troubles of their own to weep over the acted-out misfortunes of imaginary beings."
--Gabriel García Márquez, One Hundred Years of Solitude

Thursday, January 22, 2009

"There is a pain so utter..."

There is a pain—so utter—
It swallows substance up—
Then covers the Abyss with Trance—
So Memory can step
Around—across—upon it—
As one within a Swoon—
Goes safely—where an open eye—
Would drop Him—Bone by Bone.

Emily Dickinson, who never (so far as we know) gave birth, was still acquainted with time's anodyne, the erasure of the experience of pain most often associated with the recovery from childbirth. But there are other kinds of pain that time trances over as well. In my hospital stay, I never suffered much physical pain -- on the familiar 1-to-10 scale that doctors and nurses use, I don't think I ever got much past a 6. (My roommate, however, who came back from intestinal surgery howling in agony as the anesthetic wore off and before the morphine drip could be installed, responded to the 1-to-10 question, "It's a 12, goddammit!")

In my case, it was more the psychological pain, the disorientation, the hallucinations, that grew most acute as the fever spiked. Those I have mostly forgotten, but every now and then one of them resurfaces.

One night in the hospital, I awoke to find a strange, pale animal, something like a naked rat, in bed with me. As I reached in panic for the intercom to summon the nurse, the thing lunged for the call button.

It was my own hand.