American Life in Poetry: Column 802

BY TED KOOSER, U.S. POET LAUREATE

Twelve percent of the population have migraines, and that’s about 500,000 of you, based upon our current readership in print and online. I hope none of you have one today, nor Barbara Schmitz, either. This is from her book Always the Detail, from Stephen F. Austin University Press. Note the line borrowed from Emily Dickinson. Her most recent book is Just Outside from Sandhills Press.

Migraine

It comes in deepest dark, riding
a nightmare. You wake yelping,
you think from your fear, but discover
this distress is caused by pain.
The migraine descends, an unwished-
for gift, like a not-very-pleasant
prediction from a fortune-telling gypsy.

Pleading for it to depart never works.
Better to invoke blessing, welcome
the unbidden guest—it’ll get worse
before it gets better. Then finally,
as Emily was wise enough to foresee,
“After great pain, a formal feeling comes.”

When relief blossoms so sweet, so
unassuming, you wonder why
the rest of humanity isn’t spinning
in ecstasy for the opportunity to
feel like this. Just ordinary.

We do not accept unsolicited submissions. American Life in Poetry is made possible by The Poetry Foundation (www.poetryfoundation.org), publisher of Poetry magazine. It is also supported by the Department of English at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Poem copyright ©2014 by Barbara Schmitz, “Migraine,” from Always the Detail, (Stephen F. Austin University Press, 2014). Poem reprinted by permission of Barbara Schmitz and the publisher. Introduction copyright © 2020 by The Poetry Foundation. The introduction's author, Ted Kooser, served as United States Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress from 2004-2006.