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

but added

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

download podcasts

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