Acupuncture

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In the past six months, I’ve tried probably just as many strategies to relieve the pain in my head and neck. One of them is acupuncture, recommended by many people who haven’t actually tried it themselves. I have a sort of love-hate relationship with it: I do feel like it helps uncoil some of my muscles, but I’m extremely uncomfortable having needles poking into the base of my skull and back of my neck. Whoever says it’s painless or relaxing must be pretty free of tension to begin with, because my muscles are tight, and I definitely feel it. I wrote this poem after one of my sessions to try to capture my feelings about it.

SESSION THREE
The lights are dim. The filmy white curtains
blow in the breeze from the open window.
I wouldn’t mind some soft music,
but there’s only
the honk of cars on the street below and
the whine of construction tools—the sound
calls to mind an ancient torture device, all
sharp spikes and grinding metal plates.
I’m laying still on my stomach,
arms splayed, a pillow under my shins,
holding myself
r
i
g
i
d
like a domino waiting to topple.
His hands go first to my neck, kneading the skin,
finding all the tender spaces where I stash
both my hope and my fear—at the base
of my skull, in the bony ridge of my shoulder blade.
I trust him, but it’s hard
to let myself go limp in his arms.
At the point of entry, my body
v i b r a t e s.
My muscles tense and spasm beneath my skin. I cry out
involuntarily.
But then it’s over, and he leaves.
I focus on breathing
through my belly to bring my nervous system back
into some semblance of operating order.
I lose track
of time. I slip
into not-thinking,
where pain is just a construct
and the universe gleams in color
and good intentions can save us.
After minutes (hours? eons?) he finally returns.
I pull myself back to myself.
He extracts the needles,
one by one; for a moment
I still feel a phantom pressure, a whisper
of a thought half-formed then lost
as I stand, stretch out, put on my clothes, and
walk outside to skyscrapers and traffic
and real life.

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