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I have cradled three generations of heads in my palms, temples
wracked with grief: my mother’s, my daughter’s, and my own,
the affliction tracking back to my great-grandmother, whose attacks

paralyzed one side of her body. It begins with an inkling of danger,
a tingling deep in the brain that rides the branches of the trigeminal
nerve to dilate and constrict blood vessels, sending waves

of heat and chill shimmering down extremities, dread tightening
my gut as pain sharpens to a cruel point pecking one side of my skull
regular as a metronome, and I scramble for pills that work half

the time, willing my body to absorb them and abort the electrical storm
on the horizon, lights out, closing the bedroom door on my life,
ice pack at the back of my neck, pillow bruising tender scalp, nausea

rising sudden as a rogue wave, racing to the toilet to retch till relief
breaks out in beads of sweat on my brow and I sink to the floor, face down
on cool tile, not sure whether to crawl to bed and pray for sleep or stay

till it starts again, heaving bile and air in 20-minute intervals, salt seeping
from my skin and eyes, nasal passages and throat aflame, face washed gray
as agony creeps across my forehead to encircle my cranium, and I remember

tiptoeing to place a cold washcloth on my mother’s eyes as she lay moaning,
saltines and warm Coke untouched by her side, coming home to a tangle
of sheets, her hooked to an IV in the hospital again; and I wonder what triggered

this malady afflicting the women on my maternal line, not the physical causes
that cluster to ignite the nervous systems of the gut and brain—hormones,
barometric shifts, dehydration, hunger, too much sleep, not enough—

but the psychic sources, familial karma ricocheting through the centuries,
carried forward in the souls of cells that remember fractured attachments
stashed in the darkest corners of the root cellar, left to fester, tainting the soil

of the family tree, vestiges of trauma that reverberate in my blood today,
a legacy that courses through my daughter’s shuddering body as drugs drip
from a plastic bag into her vein, doctors and nurses, mothers and daughters

trying in vain to break the cycle of pain.


Therese Gleason is author of Libation (2006), selected by Kwame Dawes as co-winner of the South Carolina Poetry Initiative Chapbook Competition. Her poetry has been published in Limestone, Plainsongs, The Worcester Review, America Magazine, and San Pedro River Review, and is forthcoming in New Ohio Review, Psaltery & Lyre and Literary Mama. She is an MFA candidate in Poetry at Pacific University, and lives in Worcester, MA with her husband and three children, where she works as a literacy teacher.

© 2020, Therese Gleason

One comment on “Migraineur, by Therese Gleason

  1. Sue Caissie says:

    Amazingly real! The imagery produced from your words is profound.


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