The Aliens Seek to Understand Pain

by Kristina Erny

We underestimated the capacity, underestimated its extent. Bandwidth
deep and complex humming beyond our frequency. They’ve mastered
how to hold back from one another. Their own pain percolates long
before pubescence. On earth, they worry one another like wolves. Create
a howling tableau, themselves alone against tile cool and calming.
Face themselves in a thousand mirrors. Splash sink water, wash away
those salty tracks. Even the ones we’ve taken have been moved to hiding
themselves from us when they hurt. We have capacities of healing within
our tentacles, but these earth babies are so fragile and easily scraped; they
bleed and burn. They nightmare too. It seems this happens in circles, one
hungry loop into another. Fresh memories serve as a way to slice
themselves back open, even here where we’ve given them everything
they need. In the midst, mostly, their minds are kept blank to us; we
know only what they let out, sharp shrieks and fitful passages culled
from a strange narrative loamy and prehistoric, made of galactic ash
and meta-data, often only maaaaaaa. We seek answers to the question
of human hurt, to fill a void they don’t want to recognize or believe. Mostly
they run from our comfort. We realize they can starve on our shadows,
hug corners we patiently wait for them to finish quaking in; we
wait, we watch, we wait. They emerge, wet and wrung out. Why the
continual slice of old sutures? Why do they knead their scars? Why the hurts
most painfully exhibited by the ones that show no open wound? Our foreign
bodies are made hard and cold like theirs when we experience what we now
think to name as pain. Human transmitters exist in skin but also
in some layer that we cannot easily see. Where does the pain enter?
How long does it linger? Why can it be revived and revisited even after
passing? When is it made into mulch, and what grows from it? Who lights it? It
seems that it always finds a way to leak out. It grows sodden. It is swallowed.
It has many entrances. It hones down to a wisp so it resembles a bone. It glows.

Kristina Erny is a third-culture poet who grew up in South Korea. A graduate of the University of Arizona’s MFA program, she currently lives and works in Kentucky and has published poems in Yemassee, Tupelo Quarterly, and the Los Angeles Review, among other places. Her work has been the recipient of the Ruskin Art Club Poetry Prize and the Tupelo Quarterly Inaugural Poetry award.