Somewhere in America, scientists
have invented a method for measuring pain,
running their fingers over the bleach-
burned hands of abandoned housewives.
The standard unit of sorrow
they call a dol, as in dolorous, or Dolores,
the name of a young girl skilled
at spilling tears down the buttons
of her cornflower-blue cardigan.
The new machines make us unable
to feign heartache or holy prostration,
but arguments are settled
by those whose dolorimeters run cold.
Some wear the devices against their arms
as a kind of complaint—
this has changed the way we breathe
at 4 a.m. into sweat-soaked pillows
beside our breathless bedfellows.
In some cases sufferers have been sainted,
known for their ability to hold
their own torn organs in their hands
like blood oranges, the way they tie
barbed wire around their wrists
like penitents hauling wooden crosses
through windless deserts.
It is said if you embrace these men
you will be seared by sudden knowledge,
you will carry the blood clot
of a red poppy in your coat pocket;
when you kiss your lover,
the one leaving a trail of torn letters
in the wake of her battered luggage,
you will turn and say thank you,
thank you, and shake
bitter tears from the silver censers
found everywhere these days,
in this strange, fabled country
we can’t seem to leave.