A Terrible Intimacy


I have skittered around the jagged rim of it –
have cringed from its septic snag, standing well back,
pressing against the walls of my cell in the undisguised hell of my life,
thinking to escape its gnashing teeth.
I’ve hidden behind a false smile or fallen with
silent or searing scream while the buzzing in my brain kept
sanity away and all the time I believed
I was being brave.
Don’t give in to it. Don’t let it in or
the monsters will carry you away.
It will scratch your skin, but if you have the will you can
be a wisp of smoke, a ribbon of unreality, you can
cease to be if only for the moment. You can
die in spirit so the hurt won’t reach you. You can
escape the worst of it.

And suddenly it engulfs you, all of it, every last bit, every
truth and falsehood they dripped into your head, every
needle that they drove through the skin designed to protect
those children you loved even as they were forming in your womb,
and you feel it all, every attack and defence, everything
they broke within and without, everything
they did, everything,
every last pain that they inflicted,
minute of it.

It’s all there, every inch if agony they
pushed into themselves and you. It’s a force that fills
your body, works its way between the
layers of muscle and fat, courses
through the bloodstream and presses against the flesh. It
pulls you to the floor, drags you into a foetal position and
you’re panting like a dog, fighting
to gain control, but it holds fast to you, until
finally your fight is all gone.

That’s when it loosens its grip a little, leaving
you free; free to allow its firm embrace, free to feel
it flow through you, around you, above and below you.
It sweeps through you like a clean
spring of pure love or pure hatred, and now that you have
made your peace with it, you’re no longer sure of the difference
between agony and ecstasy. There is only the fact of it,
the unity, the bond between you and this caressing pain.

You lie with it awhile,
feeling your heartbeat decrease,
hearing the blood cease its humming,
noticing the world become still,
returning its embrace.

You have loved
and you have lain with men,
but now you know you have never let them in.
You have never allowed this
terrible intimacy.

It’s neither the best or the worst moment of your life,
and it is nothing in between these extremes;
it just is. It is all of you and none of you.
It is horror and fulfilment and emptiness.
It is all and nothing.
It is home.

Soon you will rise back into your life.
Nothing external will have changed, but you will
breathe, and for a while you will
know how to cry.

Written for Reena’s Exploration Challenge #Week 8

©Jane Paterson Basil

61 thoughts on “A Terrible Intimacy

  1. Oh Jane, so hope you’re Ok, I felt every bit of your anxiety, every sharp knifing pain, and every deadened nerve end, your writing is so explicit and has totally grabbed my heart-strings. Such a deep insight, and hoping you’ve released some of your internal feelings. Knowingly, I’m feeling for you…

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I wish you lived up the road from me, Ivor. If I was in difficulties I know I could rely on your support.
      I should have put a disclaimer at the bottom of the post, since this poem refers to the past. When I do a challenge I tend to write the first thing that comes to mind, and this is what came to me. I had to put myself back in that place in order to write it. I know you understand, since you do the same thing. I don’t regret the pain and suffering; it taught me a lot about life and shaped me into a better person (I hope).
      It could be said that I haven’t entirely recovered, but we are all constantly shaped by events, and many of us are in a constant state of collapse and recovery.
      It felt like a curse, but now I know I was blessed with the opportunity of caring for two troubled children, and watching them grow into adults that I am proud of. The statistics for addiction recovery are low, but both of my addicted children are now clean. That feels like a miracle.
      I’m so glad we met across the ether xx

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Well done Jane, And I could live up the road, as long as there’s a beach nearby. And Yes Jane, we are so shaped by the events that we painfully go through. And like you, I’d like to think that I’m a stronger person now, but also more compassionate and patient. I feel like sending you a song, maybe a David Francey one. And I’m always here for a chat xx https://youtu.be/I4aHefrIC8s

        Liked by 1 person

                1. I don’t have the words to describe how that song makes me feel.
                  I don’t have the words to explain how he saved me, over and over.
                  If he climbed into my head, he could write those words for me. He’s the only one who could.
                  When he died, I cried for all the words that were still inside him, but hearing that song, I think he was ready.
                  But the world wasn’t…

                  Liked by 1 person

                  1. I think I know how how you feel. When I was home alone after my Stroke, feeling like was dead, full of fear and anxiety, my vision was blurry, and I was physically and mentally tired beyond belief. all I could do was listen to my music, and that was Leonard Cohen…… and his words caressed, day after day, week after week, and I can’t remember for how long, but he kept me sane…… his last book is being released next year, and I know I’m sure to by it….. Another song… https://youtu.be/oHgCXhY6kZ0?list=PL4SnPCOcKRxZzfa0Mn8y32mr2AR6hOqMx

                    Liked by 1 person

                    1. The year 2000, Sept 10th. It was the most difficult time of my life, and I cannot explain all the situation properly, except my dear Carole was home with, suffering from severe MS, and totally dependent on my care. …
                      Yes , and like you, I never understood that about Leonard Cohen’s music, I found his words beautiful and totally uplifting, and no-one writes the way he does !!

                      Liked by 1 person

                    2. I can’t begin to imagine how you, or she, coped with that. It must have been terrifying for both of you, in addition to all the practical difficulties.
                      We are kindred spirits…


                    3. Yes, I’m sure we are, and I don’t know how often you cry, but I’m a constant waterfall, not that I’m upset, It’s just that I’m a totally emotional guy, and that Carole of mine ripped open my tear ducts many years ago, and the “Liquid Joy” keeps on flooding through….. x

                      Liked by 1 person

                    4. Tears are like medicine. Feelings of emotion (good or bad) produce adrenaline which becomes toxic if it isn’t cleared. The toxins work their way to the tear ducts when you cry. It’s unhealthy to stop yourself from crying, since the chemicals build up and one of the upshots is that you become unable to cry. It happened to me. As a child I refused to give way to tears, and I still rarely cry over personal hurts, but poetry, movies and the suffering of others often have me in floods of tears. I usually feel better afterwards, especially the next day.


                    5. Wow, thanks for explaining my tears. Looks like I’ll never have any problems clearing my toxins out, and because I’m always so emotional my adrenaline is pumping. … and I definitely feel better after a good cry, hahaha, and my close friends have got used to me crying a lot in their company, and now are always passing me the tissues with kindness and humour. !!♡♡

                      Liked by 1 person

                    6. There’s so many people here in Geelong that know me, and there empathy and appreciation of my journey have collectively kept me humble, and in turn enhanced my values on life….. not sure whether that came out right, but hopefully you understand……

                      Liked by 1 person

  2. This is the most intense poem i have read and ‘felt’ in a while. I physically felt the ‘terrible intimacy’ with pain, especially the lines

    they broke within and without, everything
    they did, everything,
    every last pain that they inflicted,
    minute of it.

    I had read somewhere that the expressions on a woman’s face in intense labor pain, and orgasmic pleasure are the same. This poem reminded me of that – is there a connection when you internalize a stimulus? Romantic Urdu poets have expressed fear of an emptiness, after the pain is gone. What will they live on?

    There has to be a way to sublimate this intensity — and the only thing that I can think of now, is Creativity. It helps one survive, tide over and emerge in a renewed version.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Pain stimulates creativity. Some of my best poems were written when I was suffering trauma. When my life improved I felt confused and blank, but that may have been because I had several years of constant, daily trauma.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Experience, or rather our reflections on experience show in poetry. Fiction compels us to think in another person’s shoes, but it is more or less OUR perception of how a character would behave in a given situation.

        Wishing you a wholesome and creative life ahead ….

        Liked by 1 person

  3. Loved the title of this, when intimacy is the unhealthiest thing that could be happening to you, where all it does is lay you bare and gut you, every single day. Pain like you’ve been through is like the legend of Prometheus, his liver torn out every day to regrow over night, only to be torn afresh the next day. You write about it so well and honestly, it’s brutal. So glad things remain more positive now x

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you, Lynn. You’ve been there for me through the worst of it, and I’ll be eternally grateful. Now maybe you’ll patiently suffer the best of it – my writing might not be so good when I’m happy 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

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