“On a Scale of 1-10,” Said the Nurse, “How Would You Rate Your Pain Today?”

By Tony Hoagland

If 1 is the name of your best friend from sixth grade,
which, for no reason, you remember right now,
standing in your socks on the cold tile of the examination room

—and 2 is how you will find your car in the parking lot later
and notice how dirty it has become—the back seat littered
with plastic wrappers and sales receipts—
and how it seems like a statement of how you have lived your life.

If 4 is the ache you feel in your left jaw
from clenching your teeth for the last ten years,
much in the manner of your father,

and 5 is what you felt at midnight last week
when you saw the flashing red lights of a police car
rolled up on your next-door neighbor’s lawn,

splashing the whole street the sickening
color of strawberry jello
as their son was handcuffed, locked in the back, and driven away.

If 6 is the quiet discomfort you feel about being
a citizen of the richest country on earth
—which seems to be dragging you along for the ride,
a ride to which you do not seem to be objecting
as you enter the all-natural grocery store.

If 8 is the absence of a parent or brother or child
whom you might call at this moment
to explain where you are.

If 9 is your loss of belief in sense-making itself
combined with the slight nausea you get
when you try to arrange things in ascending order,

then how do you measure that?
What is its numerical value?

Tony Hoagland, “‘On a Scale from 1-10,’ Said the Nurse, ‘How Would You Rate Your Pain Today?’” from Turn Up the Ocean. Copyright © 2022 by the Estate of Tony Hoagland. Reprinted with the permission of The Permissions Company, LLC on behalf of Graywolf Press, Minneapolis, MN, graywolfpress.org.