The Pain Scale / Must Be Nice
The Pain Scale
I knew for a decade just one way to die
the one that took my uncle, my cousin, all the kids
from my high school who didn’t leave town.
I’d see them gaunt and purpled outside of the Wesco.
They’d call me Jennifer or Julie and ask for a five.
I heard I was the last person one guy talked to,
and I have never stopped knowing I killed him
with an embarrassed twenty and a good luck, man.
When my ex died in a wreck I said it every time:
his bike, an accident on his bike, like I could prove
another way to go young, like I could break a spell.
Must Be Nice
My parents said burnout is a luxury
that people like us
we don’t get to burn out
and true who chooses introspection
over car payments
or school clothes
When I told my mother
of our coming baby
she cried joyful tears
you don’t get to find yourself
once you have kids
and a band tightened
around my lungs
that has never yet loosened
So what can I name this era
of thickening of misery
when I wait until 9 to put on makeup
after morning’s cry
when I sit in my car outside work
like stones are piled in my lap
I would call my old working parents
and tell them how I hurt enough
to carry a Bible
how I tried yoga last week
and am thinking of sabbatical
but I hear them already
between my jagged breaths
their exhausted half-laughter
Do you really think you
can fall apart
People like us we don’t
Jessica L. Walsh’s poetry can be found in Fatal Flaw, Rogue Agent, Tinderbox Poetry Journal, and more journals. She is the author of two books, The List of Last Tries and How to Break My Neck, as well as two chapbooks. She is an English professor at a community college outside of Chicago but comes from a small, lakeside town in west Michigan. She can be reached through social media or at www.jessicalwalsh.com.