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By Rodney Jones

The tortures of lumbago consumed Aunt Madge,

And Leah Vest, once resigned from schoolmarming,

Could not be convinced to leave the house,

And Mrs. Mary Hogan, after birthing her fifth son,


Lay bedfast for the last fifty-two years of her life,

Reporting shooting pains that would begin

High in her back and shear downward to the feet,

As though, she said, she had been glazed in lightning;


And also, men, broken on bridges and mills,

Shell-shocked veterans, religious alcoholics—

Leldon Kilpatrick, Johnson Suggs, Whitey Carlyle:

They came and sat there too, leafing through


Yellowing Pageants and Progressive Farmers;

And, one by one, all entered in and talked

While the good doctor gargled a dark chaff

In his pipe and took down symptoms,


Annotating them on his hidden chart—

Numbness, neuralgia, the knotted lymph,

The clammy palms—and then he’d scratch

His temple’s meaningful patch of white


And scrawl out his unfailing barbiturate prescription

To be filled by his pharmacist brother-in-law

Until half the county had gathered as in a lap—

The quantum ache, the mutiny in every house.


How much pain, how many diseases

Consigned to the mythological, the dropped

Ovaries, the torn-up nerves, what women

Said, what men wanted to believe? Part of it


Laughable, I know. Still I want someone

To see, now that they lie safe in graves

Beyond the vacant stores, that someone

Listened and, hearing the wrong at the heart,


Named it something that sounded real, whatever

They lived through and died of. I remember

Mrs. Lyle who called it a thorn in the flesh,

And Mr. Appleton, who had no roof in his mouth.


Rodney Jones, “Mortal Sorrows” from Things That Happen Once. Copyright © 1997 by Rodney Jones. Reprinted with the permission of Houghton Mifflin Company. All rights reserved.

Source: Things That Happen Once (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 1997)

  • Living

Poet Bio

Rodney Jones
Rodney Jones was born in Falkville, Alabama. He was educated at the University of Alabama and the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. He teaches at Southern Illinois University at Carbondale and is on the Illinois Arts Council. Jones has set himself apart as a master of the modern lyric and his poems are rooted in the rural South of his childhood. See More By This Poet

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