“Pain That Cannot Forget”


That was a terrible year, all those years ago, and was in a long string of terrible years. I had thought that was the worst, though. By a shrinking margin, it still is. But this year, and probably the next, are closing fast.

In order for us to learn, it has been true that we have to suffer. Maybe it never ends, the learning.

This speech is one of the most remarkable I’ve heard. Imagine if someone running for president could talk like this today, who had the kind of mind and education to be able to quote someone like Aeschylus from memory. Just imagine. I don’t see anyone who fits the job description.

Not this year.

“He who learns must suffer. And even in our sleep pain that cannot forget falls drop by drop upon the heart, and in our own despair, against our will, comes wisdom to us by the awful grace of God.
–Aeschylus of Athens

French Chocolates


If you have your health, you have everything
is something that’s said to cheer you up
when you come home early and find your lover
arched over a stranger in a scarlet thong.

Or it could be you lose your job at Happy Nails
because you can’t stop smudging the stars
on those ten teeny American flags.

I don’t begrudge you your extravagant vitality.
May it blossom like a cherry tree. May the petals
of your cardiovascular excellence
and the accordion polka of your lungs
sweeten the mornings of your loneliness.

But for the ill, for you with nerves that fire
like a rusted-out burner on an old barbecue,
with bones brittle as spun sugar,
with a migraine hammering like a blacksmith

in the flaming forge of your skull,
may you be spared from friends who say,
God doesn’t give you more than you can handle
and ask what gifts being sick has brought you.

May they just keep their mouths shut
and give you French chocolates and daffodils
and maybe a small, original Matisse,
say, Open Window, Collioure, so you can look out
at the boats floating on the dappled pink water.

“French Chocolates” by Ellen Bass from Like a Beggar. © Copper Canyon Press, 2014.