Treatment for Chronic Pain

by Erin Greenhalgh

You dream the sharp ache in your shoulder as a squirrel monkey clambering over your head in circles. The monkey is a frenetic but neutral creature, you are bound to it. You dream your pain as a canoe that glides in the murky paintbrush water of the Amazon. You dream it in shaded tributaries and lakes that open suddenly to show the pale sky. Monkey is there with you, on that shoulder. Monkey is your companion, you are both entering the mouth of unknown wonders.

You dream the sharp ache in your shoulder as wind that rises over white cliffs, like those of Dover. Sea chops itself below with grecian-myth force. On the wind an answerless question. The horizon is just the place where you can no longer be sure what is sea and what is sky.

You dream the sharp ache in your shoulder as a separate shoulder that rides the L with you in Chicago. But not in the places where it is elevated, the places where it runs underground and seasons lose their meaning in fluorescent twilight. Perpetual. Shoulder is sat tightly next to you, as if it were the shoulder of another passenger on the evening commute. Shoulder is getting off at the next stop. That is not your stop, but you wonder if you will get off anyway, and follow.

You dream the sharp ache in your shoulder as a cave deep underground, lit with a light like white crystal, source unknown. You fall into a luminous pool and look up at the shimmering surface, unafraid. Your body begins to split, arms dislocate at their joints. They glow blue. It is not an unpleasant rending, just a rending. The light purifies you. The light is your body and not your body. You understand that there are many caverns here, many bodies, many lights.

You dream the sharp ache in your shoulder as a mountain range, a topography. It is an empty land. You will meet no other travelers here, no strangers. You are safe in your isolation. You dream your pain as fields of lupine on the slopes awash in evening sun and breeze. You tarry here. You see the layers of peaks beyond, each fading one shade more into haze. There is everything to explore, there is time, there is only you.


Erin Greenhalgh is writer, collage artist, photographer, and the author of Specimen, a zine about the natural world and the transformative power of attention. Work of hers has also appeared in Sweet Lit. You can find her work at indie bookstores in Denver or online at

Image: Joseph Pearso

Image description: the White Cliffs of Dover with a soft pink sunset.