Sheila-Na-Gig online


Rhiannon Conley

RConleyRhiannon Conley is a poet and writing instructor living in North Dakota. Her work has appeared in Occulum, Literary Mama, Longleaf Review, the Penn Review, Stirring and more. She was nominated for a Pushcart Prize in 2016 and 2018 and for Best of the Net in 2018. Her chapbook, Less Precious, was published by Semiperfect Press in 2017 and her newest collection is expected to be published with Bottlecap Press in 2020. Find more of her work at

The Most Common Symptom is Pain

The abrasion in my eye is like a zipper –
my optometrist says – each night the zipper
peeling open, the teeth ripped apart
when I open my eyes from dreaming.
Each night some sound wakes me:
our son, the dogs, you
creeping into bed. My eye –
I say – and go back to sleep, the pain no longer
cause for alarm, for the tenderness of concern.

Except, it is pain. The soft, clear lens
of my eye a moon jellyfish stinging,
the little bell of it ringing and red
with the tearing of flesh by my own blinking.

When it happened, the first slash
made by our son, you asked if I needed
a doctor. No no – I said, so comfortable
diminishing pain. What do I need? –
I ask the optometrist, months later, she says:

the cornea is a remarkable thing,
a little window, self-cleaning, self-healing,
no blood. It feeds itself through tears.
But as remarkable as it is, there is nothing
poetic in its anatomy. Water, cellular wires,
the lens, a biological camera. That’s it.
But some wounds need salt for healing.
The optometrist provides me
a salt cure, and each night I embrace
the burning of it, each night I ask,
my eye tearing, weeping as it heals,
I ask: What is it that I need? And then I say,
I need – and the spell is done
and I can see through a closed zipper.
%d bloggers like this: