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Saturday, September 19, 2020  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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American Life in Poetry: ‘Migraine’

By Ted Kooser U.S. poet laureate, 2004-06

Twelve percent of the population has migraines, and that’s about 500,000 of you based upon our current readership in print and online.

I hope none of you has 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.


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.

Poem copyright 2014 by Barbara Schmitz, “Migraine,” from “Always the Detail,” (Stephen F. Austin University Press, 2014). Poem reprinted by permission of the author and the publisher. American Life in Poetry is made possible by the Poetry Foundation and the Department of English at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. We do not accept unsolicited submissions.

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