Kristen Nelson


Exquisite Pain





I remember that time in the rain. You were in the rain. I was sitting inside my car. I wish I could say you pulled me outside and made me laugh. I wish I could say we danced. Your romantic ideas were too storybook for me.
People used to walk past us and say, ďDamn.Ē They were talking about you. It was hard to not be the prettier one.
You gave me a gold bracelet for our third anniversary. It is made out of gold hearts and gold Xs. For three years, I never took it off. Sometimes I still wear it, to remember what love feels like. I run my finger over it, like you used to. I can never remember which is the kiss and which is the hug.
We never had sex without kissing, even in the morning. We always smiled after we saw each other when some time had passed. It didnít matter how we parted. Your eyes glowed. You cared about my pleasure. You always wanted to sit close enough to touch me. You made me feel filled with possibility. You made me feel strong. You looked at me like you knew me. You looked at me like you wanted to know more. You wanted me to let go. You wanted to keep me safe.
You sobbed in my arms. You made baby noises. You were not big and strong. You were small and hurting. You told me that women were worse than men with their catcalls. They made you feel cheap. You, who posed as the centerfold for a porn magazine. You, who flexed your stomach and wanted me to sit on you while you did push-ups. You cried. You sobbed in my arms. You talked about your mother and how cruel she could be with her insults. You trusted me, and I hope you do not know what I was thinking: Shut up shut up shut up. After an hour of this, you made love to me. I took all of that sadness into my body. I took those catcalls. I took those baby noises. I took your cheapness. I took those insults from your mother. I took them in from behind. I told you: as hard as you want.
I am not a small girl, but you held me up for a long time.
Sometimes there are so many big chunks of fleshy grief in your tub that you have to chip cracks in the tub itself to let in rivulets of joy. Enough to fill in the cracks between the chunks. Enough to flood the tub and float those chunks out.
I found this beautiful shell at 100 feet in the Sea of Cortez, barnacle-covered, each half bigger than my palm, lined with mother of pearl. I stood in my bedroom looking at it. I placed one on my altar and thought the other half should go to you. I imagined placing it on your grave. Could I half myself that way? You did not visit me in my dream; you did not come to say goodbye. An alive person should come before a dead person anyway. Right?
You said yo a lot. It always made me laugh. You answered the phone, Whatís good? When they told me that you were dead I said: No. I said it over and over again. I could not find another word. It felt like ripping. Not a wave and not sadness. A rip in everything I had ever known. It felt unacceptable.

You liked one word: lift. I liked so many. When I visit your grave, I want to take out my pocketknife. I want to dig you up and cut that tattoo out of your inner arm. Lift. I want to sew it into my own skin, to wear it on my inner arm. You said that it was an acronym for something. I donít remember what. Now it is a wish. Lift.

Exquisite Pain
after Sophie Calle

It was an afternoon a few months ago. I was by the pool writing. I do not remember what I was writing. It was two weeks after my sister and I traveled to Scranton, Pennsylvania to have the machines turned off on my fatherís comatose body. I could still smell his death. My friend walked towards me.
F is dead. Iím sorry. F is dead.
My grief was immediate. I moaned. I said, No over and over again. I screamed. I kept screaming. My friend held me while I screamed.
She helped me inside my house where I huddled by the toilet, puking and crying. I could not accept that he was gone. My father was gone; F was not gone. Then I got lost.
I went to a different place. I went back to several years earlier, when we prayed in the truck together. When she was still the one person who loved me enough to make things right. We prayed together in the truck. I asked her to pray with me that F wasnít dead. We held hands, and we prayed. I puked, we prayed. I was in the truck and praying.
The moment of greatest pain came when I knew that I could not stay in the truck

Dearly Beloved,
You are near,
coming closer.
I mean, you were on an airplane.
It landed.
You make common movestakes:
Close then away.
You like my house, body, comfort.
You call this friendship, but you are only taking.
If you ask for it,
I would give it.
I mean, everything.

Dearly Needed,
I know what it feels like.
It hurts.
Someone in this bed understands you
more than you think.
I would like to compare heart notes.
I like your body, your comfort.  I am only taking.
I will not ask you for anything.
I mean, everything.


This is where the closings should come.
Love and love with some commas.


Of you and you and me
I am the smallest part
No matter how you look at it
At least we form a recognizable shape
You both stand up
Lean into one another
with your arms raised
I lay on the floor between you
We are acrobats
If I call out
because someone
is stepping on my hair
one of you will hear me
and one of you will be too involved
in holding his position
If there was blood
one of you would complement
my commitment
to the shape we make
I would like to curl
I would like to stand up
I would like to walk away
Please do not walk away
You are the sum of all my parts
That doesnít make any sense
But one of you will pretend to understand it


I pull this bow back taut
This is what holding
back looks like
Do you notice
my warped shape?
This table has been cracked
for a long time
but I still use it
It still works