A Migraine Poem!

I don’t remember my first migraine. I don’t even really remember when they started. High school or college. I do remember asking Mom about migraines because my eyes did these funny little things before the ache set in and she said she got the same. She said there’d be times when we’d all be out and we’d stay a little longer at the store until her vision cleared enough to drive. So a couple of weeks ago I was grocery shopping when an aura came and I walked up and down the aisles, thinking of Mom and waiting. A few days after that, I used a poetry exercise to describe a migraine.

I’ve posted the final piece first, followed by drafts and process.


Midday Grocery Shopping Aura

I am looking at flour when my vision smudges. I blink hard
like maybe I can make it go away but I can’t see the center.
I take two Tylenol with spit, grip the cart to walk through this.
I should be flat somewhere – on a floor, in my bed – with my eyes
closed because there is no pleasure seeing how the gray
takes edges like crystal pendants catching light and color and
grows to a moon with saw teeth until the shards eat my
peripheral vision. I stand in the aisle next to a broken glass jar
of honey. I’m tired and sad under fluorescent lights, staring at
honey I don’t need, waiting for the left eye to decide it can see
again so we can go. I can’t see except by glancing, like I might
look at a man so he wouldn’t know I look. This is how I walk
up and down the aisles, picking up and putting down shapes,
colors. I find sparkling water in a corner of the store I’ve never
been before because I don’t wander in this store. I run in and
get what I need, leave. But today my aura makes me find
salt water fudge, Pellegrino, shelves of pet supplies,
a pile of soft white bread. The heaviness stays. Shimmering
flecks come and go at the bottom of my eye, gray settles
at the sides. I put what I didn’t come to buy on the belt,
pay cash and walk into bright sunlight. I know what comes
this afternoon and tomorrow morning, the residue of an ache
that wants me to curl inward and be very still until I reckon my
life and death and pray to God, taste iron in my mouth

And now the process. First draft, from an exercise:

A sound like brass in my ears, pitched
deep red with orange fringe at its edge

The fringe waking dread or fear or assurance
I am not enough. I can’t out the messenger

so I lay and think flat truth I already know
like north is north and God is God

I sweat. The heaviness of carrying the
moon dropped from my sky. I ask God to take

the taste of iron from my mouth, to clean
the white sparks from my eyes and show

Then, writing around the idea again. One of the best approaches to revision is to rewrite what you want to say. More comes up, stuff you can sift and use. I’d also been reading Migraine by Oliver Sacks and wanted to find a way to describe my own auras. This write-around took about fifteen or twenty minutes:

Last time I had an aura I was grocery shopping midday. I’d already cried that morning because … and I don’t think – the sorrow was for many things, the tiredness too. So I was getting groceries and my vision – it’s like I couldn’t focus at the center. There is a smudge in my vision that tells me the aura is beginning. I take a couple of Tylenol with my spit and keep shopping while the aura widens. The edges are like shards of crystal catching light and color, like a moon of saw teeth. They shiver and the moon grows until it meets my peripheral vision. I can’t look to the side. I can’t clearly focus at the center. I have to look like I’m only glancing. It is impossible to read, there is no pleasure in keeping my eyes open. Tiny shimmering flecks come and go at the bottom of my vision. The left eye is most affected.

My left side of my head feels heavy. What I need to do when this happens is lay down and sleep to clear my head, clear my eyes, but I rarely do, so I spend a day walking around with a residual ache in my head. Sometimes even when I sleep, I wake with that same heaviness on my left side.

When the aura seemed to be as full as it’d get and I could look around and my vision wasn’t simmering, I drove home. All I wanted was to be in bed. I was very tired and very off.

Because I wanted an easy revision first, I played with how the poem looks on the page. I arbitrarily decided to keep couplets but make the second line of each short. This took maybe three minutes to cut and arrange:

Aura

Orange fringed brass in my ears,
gray edged

Waking dread or fear or assurance
I am not enough

I lay flat and think flat truth
like north is north

I sweat the heaviness of carrying
this moon

Clean the white sparks from my eyes
and show

I went back to my write-around and bolded the phrases I thought I’d use:

Last time I had an aura I was grocery shopping midday. I’d already cried that morning because … and I don’t think – the sorrow was for many things, the tiredness too. So I was getting groceries and my vision – it’s like I couldn’t focus at the center. There is a smudge in my vision that tells me the aura is beginning. I take a couple of Tylenol with my spit and keep shopping while the aura widens. The edges are like shards of crystal catching light and color, like a moon of saw teeth. They shiver and the moon grows until it meets my peripheral vision. I can’t look to the side. I can’t clearly focus at the center. I have to look like I’m only glancing. It is impossible to read, there is no pleasure in keeping my eyes open. Tiny shimmering flecks come and go at the bottom of my vision. The left eye is most affected.

My left side of my head feels heavy. What I need to do when this happens is lay down and sleep to clear my head, clear my eyes, but I rarely do, so I spend a day walking around with a residual ache in my head. Sometimes even when I sleep, I wake with that same heaviness on my left side.

When the aura seemed to be as full as it’d get and I could look around and my vision wasn’t simmering, I drove home. All I wanted was to be in bed. I was very tired and very off.

Finally I decided to talk about my auras by showing a specific experience heavy on sensory images. Just because, I decided to go for a block of long lines:

Midday Grocery Shopping Aura

I am looking at flour when my vision smudges and I blink hard
like maybe I can make it go away but I still can’t see the center.
I take two Tylenol with spit and grip the cart to walk through this.
I should be flat somewhere – on a floor, in my bed – with my eyes
closed because there is no pleasure in seeing how the gray
takes edges like crystal pendants catching light and color and
grows to a moon with saw teeth until the shards eat my
peripheral vision. I stand in the aisle next to a broken glass jar
of honey. I am tired and sad under fluorescent lights, staring at
honey I don’t need, waiting for the left eye to decide it can see
again so we can go. I can’t see except by glancing, like I might
look at a man so he wouldn’t know I look. This is how I walk
up and down the aisles, picking up and putting down shapes,
colors. I find sparkling water in a corner of the store I’ve never
been before because I don’t wander in this store. I run in and
get what I need, go out. But today my aura makes me find
salt water fudge, Pellegrino, shelves of pet supplies,
a pile of soft white bread. The heaviness stays, shimmering
flecks come and go at the bottom of my eye, and gray settles
at the sides but I put what I didn’t come to buy on the belt,
pay cash and walk into bright sunlight. I know what comes
this afternoon and tomorrow morning, the residue of an ache
that wants me to curl inward and be very still until I reckon my
life and death and pray to God and taste iron in my mouth

And the final poem at the top of the post is much the same save small edits. What I like about this piece is that I kept some of the images from the first exercise. And what I love about this piece is its process. I might have chosen different approaches to revision and then found a different poem. Wild. Writers have absolute control over their work. 

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