The Poem Where Dr. Phil Rides to the Back Doctor with Me by Katie Darby Mullins

Sometimes I imagine my vertebrae like explosions,
Each piece a tiny mushroom cloud lit up
In gray and blue and maybe even purple—
Loud colors and pain streaking, catching fire.

Today my shoulder is erosion: a shelf worn
Down from over use. Something’s
Wrong, but I’m supposed to pretend I don’t
Notice. Power of positive thinking. Doctors
Have told me since I was ten that I didn’t hurt

“And thank God all this pain doesn’t hurt,”
I say out loud. Dr. Phil is in the passenger seat,
Trying to keep his expensive shoes off the papers
On the floorboard. He’s come to accept

The mess. Some matchbox twenty song is on the radio,
And I can tell he’s torn between fidgeting
With the dial (– and me shutting him down) and singing.
“I see your pain. And I can’t begin to understand

How you feel,” he says. It’s a canned answer,
But a good one: sometimes I wonder if the swelling
Goes down a little every time someone
Believes me. I’ve seen him say this to widows,
People who’ve lost parents. And in the scheme

Of things, I know this isn’t so bad: but sometimes
All that knowledge courses through my muscles
And they tense up harder, and soon, my body
Is knotted with pieces of me I can’t even name.
Sometimes I’m carrying the pain of the whole
World in the worn-out spaces between bones.

 

Katie Darby Mullins teaches creative writing at the University of Evansville. In addition to being nominated for both the Pushcart Prize and Best of the Net twice, and being the associate editor of metrical poetry journal Measure, she’s been published or has work forthcoming in journals like The Rumpus, Iron Horse, Hawaii Pacific Review, BOAAT Press, Harpur Palate, Prime Number, Big Lucks, Pithead Chapel, and she was a semi-finalist in the Ropewalk Press Fiction Chapbook competition and in the Casey Shay Press poetry chapbook competition.

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