The Pain Narratives, Chronologically
(This piece has been excerpted. The sections retain their original numbering.)
Part Five: Have you noticed feeling is similar, as a phenomenon, to decay?
Your thoughts today: I am not a person. What is a person? Certainly, I cannot be what I know of it. Person is the name for something more than me, more fraught with feeling. You cannot fathom the nobility of a thing called person, the image of half-structures crumbling in the child dark before their forms are fully known. All the unraveling of personhood is too wonderful to be a part of. The sweet ache of it against the sides of your brain, near-midnight’s grinding slowness.
I light fires in my bedroom for the smell. Yesterday, I burned my sheets. I brought the ashes to the girl across the hall. Does everything come apart, I asked; certainly she would know, her eyes caught up in a wind I could not feel. Everything, she confirmed. Then closed the door.
Hold me in the blue hours. You won’t, I know. But promise, so we have something to break.
Lucifer in Manhattan, gazing upward. Considering fate & its connection to choice. It’s complicated; history moves forward too fast for any one thing to hold its place in the current. The distance between what we all were once & what we are now is too far to mend. I am the goddess of love, Lucifer says aloud, to no one in particular. & that is true enough: love burns as hot as any other phenomenon in its genus. The Lower Eastside hums. Late afternoon, the flickering of winter. The city settling downward into itself. Its glow will fade early tonight, save one fragment, walking north toward Harlem. Aching with light & the desire to be touched before morning stumbles past the horizon.
Part Six: That’s why each story becomes, eventually, a series of questions.
I met a Satanist painter my first week in New York. His name was Ken. He gave me a picture of a bird in exchange for a cigarette. The most noble bird I’ve ever seen. He said it looked like something inside of me, & I asked how he knew. He couldn’t answer.
What if I told you that all of this was real? Would you believe me? Does an idea like reality really work, when put in practice, the way I am attempting to describe? The narrative is an interesting form of thought. How we have to tell taller & taller tales to find truth. Do you think there was a specific moment in human evolution when the brain developed the capacity for imagination? If so, was it also the moment that man truly knew pain?
The girl across the hall is a confessional, filled with shadows. Who is confessing in her concave apartment?
The ringing of distant church bells. Why do we signify Time that way? With noise & monument? Time, around which all of our uncertainty swings.
Part Eight: & then—vertigo.
In the Qur’an, only man has the power to name the world. Perhaps this is why the Morning Star fell down that night. Tired of waiting for Adam to give words to the feeling of gazing upward & listening.
The girl across the hall finally throws herself from the east side of the building. It is sunrise when they find her body, the ground about it a mess of wind-torn feathers. I gather them up. No one else to do it. I place them in the top drawer of my desk, beside an old photo.
We reach that point of repetition eventually, where the names of things mean only themselves. Which is another way of saying that there is no meaning, only sensation. The body in the wind, breaking apart somewhere before the ground. How many names do you know for pain? The truth is: we have so many, we’ll spend our entire lives trying to pick them up & pronounce. Then, we’ll spend the time after our lives wondering why we did that.
MICHAEL ABRAHAM studies poetry and critical theory at New York University. He lives in Manhattan.