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C.N.P Poetry 

  • Writer's pictureCathexis Northwest Press

A little pain pill; Inventory at waking; Side effects

By: David Alexander McFarland

A little pain pill

When I whisper yes to her in

my hoarse, my strangulated voice, yes, please yes to that little white pill, an oxy to dampen down those abdominal torments made stronger with another treatment, this four-day migraine, backache from too long nailed to my chair, and all those ordinary miseries of cancer— if normal is leaving a person not so much more than a brittle, thin glass that at any moment will implode— I am truly grateful.

Inventory at waking

Waking in dim, five o'clock light I take little shuffling steps on a cool dark wood floor; the bathroom impulse never changes.

Waking means an inventory check my first minutes back in bed; I reach out to my feet: my toes have stayed numb, with the tips of my fingers.

I stretch my mind toward my back: the soreness starts in my spine, reaches round to my ribs. Same as yesterday. No worse; I am satisfied.

And I test my belly: not so much abdominal ache as yesterday, but the paracentesis rid me of the bloating; I can almost be comfortable on my side again. No problems in this light with my depth perception, my cataract at work— in this dim light, my eyes can rest. No headache today, that threat having dimmed now the inside and outside humidity are better controlled so no eight day migraine started by my sinuses, not this moment, maybe not this day. There is the pool of blood under the skin near my wrist. Did not see it yesterday but it isn’t large, maybe a dime in size, and will fade in time.

That is what I pray for: more days with fewer effects and only arthritis, only the commonly expected aches of age, what some might call normal, but how I felt then I have forgotten. Because illness drew a line across me, makes me reinterpret all.

Inventory is a test of memory really, this against that, another day initialized against my other days, my lifetime of days; illness layers over all and seeps out our pores, running through us like rioters, grabbing what it wants.

Side effects

for H. Pitot

are little boys who yank the petals off my cheap and common flowers, my straggling marigolds, zinnias, especially my brighter ones, reds and oranges, subtler pinks

are the dog that barks at every leaf blown along by the briefest breeze

noisy grandchildren’s long screamed demands for ice cream

a scammer who calls me constantly expecting to seduce me into home security car warranties all my entertainment options while wasting submerging eating at my passions of this moment, this moment into an unknown and alien plan

a new scratchy shirt that will never soften not after a thousand washings, even with all the fabric softener in any Walmart

transform into a school bully from my class who waits daily for me who drags me out of my mind who hits hard daily in that favorite spot which will never heal

are buzzards following patiently a few steps behind and seemingly smiling fondly at me as I swallow down the next pill that might make them pause this step or the next


David Alexander McFarland has published short fiction here and internationally, and his poetry has appeared in Coe Review, Sheila-Na-Gig online, and Deep South Magazine. A volume of his poetry wil be appearing soon. He lives in northwestern Illinois where the Mississippi River runs east to west. He was published in “Crying.” He published two poems with Cathexsis Northwest Press in June of 2020.

Interview with the Poet:

*Unfortunately, Pancreatic cancer claimed David in December after a two and a

half year struggle. Our deepest condolences to those left behind.

These responses come from David’s wife Julie:

Cathexis Northwest Press:

How long have you been writing poetry?

Julie A. Mcfarland:

Although David wrote mostly short stories until around 2000, he has written poetry throughout his adult life.


Can you remember the first poem you read that made you fall in love with poetry?


Sorry, I don’t know this one


Who are your favorite poets? Any specific poems?


David enjoyed many poets, among them Robert Bly, Carl Sandburg, William Butler Yeats, and James Whitehead. “My sweet old etcetera” by E.E. Cummings is a favorite of his.


Can you share for us a little bit about your writing process? Any specific rituals that get you in

the zone?


David’s poems usually begin with an image, something physical he notices or remembers, something that triggers something in him.


How do you decide the form for your poems? Do you start writing with a form in mind, or do you let the poem tell you what it will look like as you go?


The form seems to evolve for David. I have never heard him sit down and say, “I think I’ll write a sonnet.” Instead, he notices something (such as how catalpa pods look like snakes and startle a person) and pulls out a tiny note pad or his phone and jots things down. He lets the poem tell him what it will look like as he goes.


Any advice for poets who have yet to find their voice?


Read often and widely, trust your story sense, be concrete


What is your editing process like?


As far as I can tell from watching & listening to him work, David re-considers words or phrases that aren’t quite right yet and fiddles with them to make sure the meaning, nuance, and rhythm all work together to leave a specific impression. He usually sets a poem aside for a time and revisits it a day or so later with fresh eyes. Sometimes he sends them to writer friends for feedback (which he may or may not follow)


When do you know that a poem is finished?


It looks to me as though he just “knows.”


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