Migraines & Headaches

Six Explanations for Migraine

By Lisa Gluskin Stonestreet

  1. Demon

Flashing like lightning it is loosed
above and below. Weather, wind

enters through the eye, row
of trees along the road. Like one

sick of heart he staggers, like one
bereft of reason he is broken.

The dance stop-
gap, hypnotic. Slips in

past the interim, ducks
through a hole in the sight.

  1. Hemicrania.

If the affection be protracted, the patient
will die; if more light

and not deadly it becomes chronic, torpor
and weariness. Cold cloths,

supplications. Offerings
to the gods. Sharp and tormenting

Vapors. Pull the drapes, safe
from sight. Dim

the light, damp half
the mind, and wait.

  1. Deity.

The fiery life of divine essence
aflame beyond the beauty of the meadows:

I gleam in the waters, and I burn
in the sun, moon, and stars.

The world hums
in outline, glow: what he’ll come

to call “the visuals”
radiating, eyebrow out.

From the very day of her birth, this woman
has lived as if caught in a net.

And I would call it down, pull out
my own shoddy wiring,

make trade of music
for this passed-on spell.

  1. Psyche.

Outlet for unacceptable impulses.
Harmful manifestations

of harmful processes.
Children don’t— The flip

of my grandmother’s skirt,
doctor’s door

slamming in her wake.
Children don’t: She was right,

knew the tripwire
from the cause. Still

here is a box,
a nest of wires.

Gloves, clippers. I strip
the sheath. White matter,

shutter. Know more, but still
they twist, they ghost.

Gift him the case
along with the tools.

  1. Chemistry.

Ibuprofen, caffeine.
Ergotamine tartrate.

Propoxyphene. Dextro-
propoxyphene. Propranalol,

butalbital. Sumatriptan
succinate, first shot

of what works, rush
of heat through a vein:

surface or depth,
I don’t care. Every finger

tingles, bruise blooms
on my thigh. Buys me

days and days. Calculate,
dizzy on the hall floor: more.

  1. Galaxies.

Grain the trigger, the gut
the gun. Feeding the baby

such a rattletrap trap:
strict dominion

of obscure turns, genes,
lines. Pull the thread

and a stitch
elsewhere twitches, eye

and an eye closing
behind it. Cat’s cradle

more skyfield
than map.

We tack spark to spark.
Stars thrum

in the boy’s eye. I turn
the cloth again. We wait.


Author’s Note: Much of the italicized text is drawn from historical descriptions of migraine. By section: 1. Mesopotamian clinical description, with symptoms attributed to evil spirits. 2. Aretaeus the Cappadocian, first century CE. Hemicrania (ημικρανια), a term coined by the Greek physician Galen, translates to “half of the head.” 3. Hildegard von Bingen, 12th century. 4. Contemporary characterization of Freudian-era conception of migraine as effect of psychological sublimation. 5. Common medications for migraine used during the 1970s, 80s, and 90s.

“Six Explanations for Migraine” first appeared in Blackbird and is posted here with permission from the author.


Lisa Gluskin Stonestreet’s The Greenhouse was published by Bull City Press in 2014; Tulips, Water, Ash won the 2009 Morse Poetry Prize. Her poems have been awarded a Javits fellowship and a Phelan Award, and have appeared in journals including Plume, Zyzzyva, The Collagist, Blackbird, and Kenyon Review Online. She writes, edits, and teaches in Portland, Oregon, where she’s currently working on the poems for her third manuscript, Annihilation, which is quite a bit less depressing than it sounds.

Not sure how to tell if you’re having a migraine or a headache? Only a medical professional can verify for sure, but there are several differences between the two. Check out these helpful tips here and here.

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