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Ruth Bavetta

Ruth Bavetta’s poems have appeared in Rattle, Nimrod, American Poetry Review, Tar River Review, North American Review and many other journals and anthologies. Her books are Fugitive Pigments, Embers on the Stairs, No Longer at This Address, and Flour, Water, Salt. She likes the light on November afternoons, the music of Stravinsky, the smell of the ocean. She hates pretense, fundamentalism and sauerkraut

Learning Pain

after Howard Nemerov

Before you can learn pain, you must learn
the language of pain. The words are easy.
They turn out not to be foreign after all.
You’ve heard them all your life.
Breathe deeply, this won’t hurt,
she’s gone, he’s been committed.

Worse are the words that have shaped the pain—
embolism, coronary thrombosis, metastasis,
no survivors, divorce decree,
she’s killed herself, three months at best.

Once you’ve understood all this,
you will go into the world to see
if its tortured streets correspond
to what you’ve learned. Not well at all,

it turns out. The pain of your divorce
may differ from that of another’s separation.
Must you learn to experience
an average parting?

Example—in the book on grief and dying
death spews itself in coils
around your throat. In reality, it may
instead pyramid upon your chest.

Maybe it’s not cancer. Dreadful hope.
It may be weeks before you see results,
Or months. Or years.

Still, little by little you will start to learn
the way pain cuts across the world,
always at the worst location,
how learning its infinite varieties
changes only you, and not the pain.

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